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Gardening With Young Children: Expertise from UNH's Child Study Center

By Beth Potier, Media Relations
April 22, 2009

Structures like bean tipis create private spaces for children in the garden.  Courtesy of UNH Child Study and Development Center
Structures like bean tipis create private spaces for children in the garden.  Courtesy of UNH Child Study and Development Center

For 10 years before Malia and Sasha Obama helped make gardening a child-friendly activity, UNH’s youngest students of agriculture have been tilling, planting and harvesting flowers and vegetables.

Although these future-Future Farmers of America have not yet started elementary school, through the Growing a Green Generation project of UNH’s Child Study and Development Center (CSDC) they’re developing a lifelong love of learning, the outdoors, and possibly even vegetables.

“Gardening lets children practice skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, counting, measuring, writing, language, and risk-taking,” says Beth Hallett, Growing a Green Generation project coordinator and an early childhood teacher at the CSDC, a laboratory school (infant through kindergarten) at UNH. “The garden is truly nature’s classroom, where young children of varying abilities find a soothing environment that releases tension, engages the senses, provokes curiosity and invites interaction.”

As interest in “green” living and fiscal frugality intersect to create a boom in home gardens this year, Hallett offers several tips for parents and educators wishing to bring their children into the process:

  • Have children help choose the vegetables and fruits to be grown.
  • Plant in container gardens to reduce the amount of weeding.
  • Engage children in meaningful work such as planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting.
  • Create private spaces such as a bean tipi or sunflower house.
  • Talk with children about their theories and discoveries within the garden: “How do you think the beans climbed to the top of the tipi?” “Where do plants get their water?” 
  • Invite children to cook with you. Children are more willing to eat something they have created.


The Growing a Green Generation Project, a decade-long collaboration between the CSDC and the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture at UNH, engages infants through kindergarteners through a curriculum that actively involves them in the process of gardening. Students participate in all aspects of tending the 5400-square-foot (one-eighth of an acre) garden that abuts the center: from selecting and nurturing seedlings indoors to preparing the soil to building supports and structures to – of course – harvesting and tasting. Each year the project hosts the Growing a Green Generation conference for educators and parents; this year’s event (May 2, 2009) filled more than a month in advance.

Growing a Green Generation receives generous funding from the Anna and Raymond Tuttle Environmental Horticulture Fund. In 2008, the project received a Wuzzleburg Preschool Garden Award from the National Gardening Association. For more information, go to http://horticulture.unh.edu/ggg.html.

The Child Study and Development Center celebrated 80 years of early childhood education at UNH in January 2009. The center is known nationally for its inquiry-based approach to early education and its award-winning Growing a Green Generation Project on gardening with children. As a laboratory school, the CSDC provides a setting for research, educates 100 pre-service teachers, and hosts hundreds of educator tours each year. Learn more at www.csdc.unh.edu.


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