Last week we took a few days off for a spring garden prep “field trip” at the home of my in-laws in Kansas. Grandpa and Grandma Gotcher are “firstgen” homeschoolers: They began homeschooling my husband and his two sisters in the early 1980s. They needed help getting their orchard and garden cleaned, pruned and prepped for the spring. Our daughters love helping Grandpa and Grandma, and I was excited about the hands-on homeschool opportunity to learn from my father-in-law, who is both a continual student and enthusiastic teacher — especially when talking about subjects he loves.
My in-laws grew up on farms in Nebraska and Iowa, and gardening is an enjoyable (and fruitful, pun intended!) escape from their busy lives traveling to educate and minister to groups across the country through their Institute for Authority Research. At this time of year, they get to spend some time at home preparing their orchard and garden for the growing season. They have several different types of fruit trees, berry bushes, and grape vines, as well as raised beds for planting vegetables.
My daughters were so excited to get hands on with their garden this year, and although gathering tumbleweed, long reeds of dried up grass and branch snippets isn’t glamorous work, they understand that it’s an important part of the process. They also learned about what types of branches provide excellent wood for smoking meat: Those were gathered into special piles for storage.
Everyone — even our six-year-old — got a chance to prune and learn the techniques for helping the fruit trees, vines and bushes produce more fruit this year. Always up for adventure, my 13-year-old loved being up on the ladder to work on the trees and high vines. Along with the hands-on instruction, my father-in-law took breaks with the girls to pull out books and get a little more in-depth with the botany lessons.
One thing I really appreciate about my father-in-law is his ability to keep things interesting: Sharing important and fun facts at just the right times to keep everyone captivated, giving patient direction, allowing them to rotate through a variety of activities, and switching gears when necessary. It was a blessing for me to watch and learn from him so that I can become a better educator myself. As a bonus, I learned a lot that we can apply at home with our own backyard garden this spring.
When we returned home, the girls added pages to their science notebooks with drawings and details to capture what they’d learned. We also checked out a couple of books from the library for further study and application in our own garden. Our indoor seedlings are started, and everyone is looking forward to another (short!) growing season of our own here in Colorado.
I can’t wait to plan another trip to visit them for the next stage of garden work and new learning opportunities. Of course, the girls can’t wait for harvest time!
Do you grow a garden or have access to family gardens? If so, how do you incorporate the experience into your homeschooling? What other ways can you give your children a hands-on experience with gardening if you can’t DIY in your backyard? We’d love to hear your own stories and ideas in the comments below.