Math is one of those subjects that is important to keep fresh over the summer. But who wants to sit and do worksheets in the summer? We like to use math games, projects, and life skills to keep our math skills sharp. One of the best places to strengthen math skills is in the garden! Here are ten skills you can target and some ways to do so. They cover preschool through elementary school math. And if you don’t have a garden or like to get dirty? Then just scroll to the bottom and check out our Build A Garden: Math Project Based Learning Activity. No dirt required!
As I prompt these skills from our children, I like to use questions that start with “I wonder…” to encourage them to have curiosity about the outdoors and math in general. “I wonder how many plants are in this bed?” “I wonder how many peppers are on that plant?” “I wonder how many peppers are on all the plants together?” “I wonder how many tomato plants we can fit in this bed?” Then I sit back and see if they can determine how they are going to answer the question. If they are having trouble with this, then I lay out a possible path to the answer by starting with “Maybe we could….” My goal is for them to start to ask these questions on their own and to come up with strategies for answering them.
Here are some of the skills you can target and this list is by no means exhaustive!
1:1 Counting in the Garden
When children are learning to count, they love counting anything! Encourage them to to count flowers, plants, bugs, worms, seeds and whatever else you might find. You can start to introduce plant identification by encouraging them to count the number of petals on a flower or number of leaves on a stem. It also important for them to use these counting skills to accomplish a goal. For example, counting out just 2-3 seeds to put into each hole.
Children can compare sizes of plants, fruits, vegetables or flowers while walking in the garden. Modeling words like big, bigger, biggest, small, smaller, smallest, tall, and wide made this a great language activity as well. Arranging seeds or vegetables in order from smallest to biggest or biggest to smallest is a good table activity and can lead to all sorts of other conversations.
Addition and Subtraction
There are plenty of opportunities all around us to talk about addition and subtraction. Count the plants in two different garden beds and then add the numbers together. Or for older kids have them count the plants in all the garden beds and add them all together. The same can be done with flowers or vegetables on each plant and then adding how many flowers or vegetables are on all the plants in one area. Did some of the plants die? Then make it into a subtraction problem…we planted 8 tomato plants, but 2 died. How many do we have left? Or count how many plants are in a bed and then use subtraction to determine the type of each plant. There are 10 plants in the bed and 4 are peppers. How many are tomatoes?
When harvesting fruits and vegetables, you can have your child sort them into groups and count how many of each type of vegetable there is and then add all those numbers together.
Measurement in the Garden
For younger kids, you can bring a ruler out to the garden and measure the height of plants and the length of cucumbers and worms. You could also bring a tape measure and see how big around tomatoes, peppers and squash are.
As children get older, involve them in planning the garden. Measuring how much room is in each bed and looking at how much room each plant needs to have. Then helping determine how far apart to space the plants.
Sit down with a calendar and the seeds you are going to plant and read the directions on the packets together. Determine when you can plant the seeds. Then determine when you will be able to harvest them by counting on the calendar. This is a great time to talk about how many days in a week and in a month and how to count by those rather than just counting day by day by day. Depending on the age of your child, there is ALL sorts of math you can work into this discussion. We have a chart in our Build A Garden project below that you can fill out with this information for each seed you plant.
Multiplication and Division
If you have older children, you can work in multiplication and division, especially during the planning of the garden. If you want to have 5 cucumber plants and you need to plant 3 seeds in each hole, how many seeds do you need to have? If each tomato plant yields about 20 tomatoes, how many plants do we need to yield 200 tomatoes? If our row is 8 feet long and the seeds need to be 6 inches apart, how many plants will we be able to plant? During walks in the garden or harvest time, you can you use multiplication to quickly count plants, fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Once you get in the habit of posing questions like this, I am sure you will think of many more!
Area in a Garden
Area is a math concept that naturally fits in the garden. You have to know the area of your garden bed to know how much you can plant there! But, even if your child is not learning multiplication, yet, you can still teach about area. We took string and measured off each foot of my son’s personal garden bed to create a grid like pattern. Not only does this help you know how close you can plant the seeds and plants together, it also helps you visualize the area of the bed. Now he can count the squares to tell us the area even though he can not do multiplication, yet.
You can build off the idea of area discussed above by talking about how much of each bed a plant takes up. In our 8 ft. x 4 ft. beds, each tomato plant takes up 1/8 of the bed. But, a head of lettuce only takes up 1/4 of the space the tomato plant takes up. You can look for fractions all over the garden.
Graphing Your Garden
Gardens are a great inspiration for practicing graphing. Bar graphs are great for showing how many of each type of fruits and vegetables you have growing in the garden. You can work on counting, comparing and contrasting. After completing a bar graph you could transfer this same data to a pie chart, which would lead to discussions about division and fractions. Line graphs are good for tracking changes over time and so would be great for tracking temperature or for tracking how many of a certain type of vegetable you harvested each time throughout the course of a growing season. You can learn more about graphing and grab a FREE Graphing Packet here.
If your children are learning about money, you could set up a pretend or real garden stand to ‘sell’ your extra fruit and vegetables at. You can discussing pricing, adding up the cost of several items, making change, etc.! And what child doesn’t love to pretend or really sell things?
I hope this list got you thinking of the many ways we can practice math in the garden! What else would you include? Feel free to comment below!