Blog written and contributed by Jen Altrogge
As infants grow into the toddler stage, they go through various developmental phases that help them learn, by connecting to the world around them. All children experience a period where they learn to distinguish humans from other objects and discern specific qualities about the environment. There are many ways a parent can reinforce this connection through meaningful age-appropriate activities. Such activities may include playing learning games, singing, dancing, or teaching them to gain a deeper understanding of their world by venturing into science. Simple experiments, such as planting small gardens or trees can enrich a child’s understanding of the life cycle. As trees typically have a long life, the child can watch the tree grow, as they grow, and even develop a bond and special memory connected to the tree.
These type of activities enable children to get an early start on learning. Contrary to mainstream beliefs, parents are the most important teachers in a child’s life, from birth through adulthood. At this young age, children absorb more information from hands-on experiences, thus it is important to create a positive outdoor learning environment for them. Typically, toddlers are underestimated in their abilities to participate in certain activities, such as gardening. However, by exposing them to it at a young age, it can be surprising how quickly they respond and are eager to participate in the activity. In addition, parents can engage them by allowing them to do some watering and digging in the planting process. Though they may not possess the strength to actually be productive in digging, they will appreciate being able to “help” the parent. It is also a ripe environment for learning about insects and worms, among other things outdoors. These activities will enable the child to learn about the relationship between seeds, plants, and insects. Over time, it sets an excellent foundation for gaining an understanding of life science.
After planting a tree with their toddler, parents have a responsibility to guide the child as they continue to nurture the tree. They should supervise the watering of the tree to ensure that the child does not overwater it. The process of cultivating the tree as it grows allows the child to learn the importance of taking care of the tree and living things in general. As a result, he or she will learn the importance of conserving the environment.
There are factors a parent should consider before planting a tree with his or her child in order to ensure that the child get the most out of the experience. One of these factors is that the child may naturally consider a garden as a playing ground, so parents should set boundaries by teaching the child the importance of protecting the young seedlings. It is ideal to place a garden in an area that is not close to the child’s typical play area. Learning about being gentle and not stepping on the plant, is an important lesson in the learning experience.
To enrich the gardening experience, parents should consider growing fruit trees, which can be integrated into meals. Contemplate the shape, color, and texture of the trees since the child can better incorporate and understand the experience by using his or her primary senses of sight and touch.
If space permits, one may consider planting a variety of trees and plants, in case one does not develop, the child can still have others to use for learning. Parents should try to explain to their toddlers the reasons for selecting certain seeds and not others to enable them to find out more about the soil and other factors that may affect the growth of the tree.
The most common mistake parents make with toddlers is underestimating their abilities to learn and to participate in certain activities. Though they are young, they are capable of learning a multitude of things, but only if they are exposed to them. Learning about living things and the environment around them is ideal for the stage of development toddlers are in. Go ahead and pick up a tree or seedling today and begin teaching about the cycle of life to your little one!