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You are in:  Learning | The Garden of Fun and Learning

The Garden of Fun and Learning

By Ruth B. Roufberg
As a toy reviewer, I am always thinking of play, even while I am picking peas and strawberries in the garden. As I reach for pea pods of just the right plumpness, and strawberries of the richest red, I regard this as a game of sizes and colors.

When I consider how much money parents spend on toys and books designed to teach children colors, shapes, and sizes, I want to shout, “Hey! You don’t have to buy all that stuff! Everything you need is in your own vegetable patch.”

The trick for turning crop-harvesting into a series of playful learning games is based on the fact that every fruit and vegetable has an optimal time for picking, based on it size or color.

Color in the GardenColor

Color is the easiest concept to start with. Let’s say you’re picking strawberries. Show your child a red-ripe berry and she’s ready to play the “which-strawberries-are-red-enough” game. Color is also the determining factor in picking ripe blueberries, tomatoes, and red or yellow peppers.

Size in the GardenSize

Recognizing the right size is a bit more of a challenge, but in some cases the best harvest size is a matter of personal preference. Show your child several asparagus stalks that are the height and thickness you prefer and let her find others. The only essential is to cut the spears before the tips begin to open.

Other vegetables whose maturity is determined by size are green beans, peas, cucumbers, Brussel sprouts, broccoli and zucchini. All offer some leeway, depending on whether your like our veggies small and young or large and mature. Forget about corn -- that is tricky even for adults.

When it comes to root crops, judging their size requires tactile skill. Youngsters love to poke their fingers into the earth to decide whether the carrots, beets or radishes are big enough to pull.

Snow peas pose the greatest challenge of all, something like “find the hidden picture” puzzles. The pods are exactly the same color as the leaves and can be differentiated only by shape. But because the pods must be picked while still thin, they are scarcely visible from the side. A return walk along the row from the opposite direction will invariably reveal some pods that were missed the first time. A child, viewing things from a lower angle, takes delight in discovering pods adults never saw because leaves obscured them

Appropriate tools will enhance your child’s garden experience and perhaps encourage her to plant and tend a small patch of her own. Long-handled tools are needed to prepare a new bed for planting, while hand tools are best for close-up jobs like planting seedlings, weeding, and cultivating around plants in an established garden. A wheeled cart keeps tools and supplies together and brings them where they are needed.


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