Preschool Gardening Activity Guide

Natural Learning Initiative

The Preschool Gardening Activity Guide, companion to the Childcare Center Production Garden Series, is based on the NLI Preventing Obesity by Design (POD) program. The aim is to elevate children’s knowledge and enthusiasm for eating fresh fruit and vegetables.

The guide introduces garden educators and volunteers to a 12-step, hands-on learning process with young children to engage them in seasonal fruit and vegetable gardening. Each step includes suggestions for related children’s literature. Prior gardening experience is not assumed. The underlying goal is to counteract the early onset of health challenges associated with sedentary lifestyles, poor eating habits, and lack of contact with nature. To download the guide, please use the form below.

Results of USDA-sponsored NLI research demonstrate how hands-on gardening is positively associated with physical activity, along with the identification and consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables. For more information click here: COLEAFS. Also, food-based gardening is strongly aligned with the curriculum principles of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).

The Gardening Activity Guide assumes that centers have already installed a designated, raised-bed fruit and vegetable garden and seek ideas about how to use it as a vehicle for learning. The Gardening Activity Guide provides a structured approach consisting of two main sections: Skill-building gardening activities and when to harvest varied produce. The Gardening Activity Guide provides a structured approach consisting of two main sections:

  • Gardening Activities

The Gardening Activities section contains three phases covering 12 garden-related learning processes seen in the table. Each gardening process includes supporting activities to stimulate experiential learning inspired by the North Carolina Foundations for Early Learning and Development (2013). Appendix A contains Our Gardening Activities Calendar, provided for teachers and children to record daily and weekly interactions related to each gardening process. Guided by the teacher, children are encouraged to see themselves as active participants in weekly documentation by checking off garden processes and recording activities.

  • Time to Harvest

The Time to Harvest section provides helpful tips for harvesting selected warm-season fruits and vegetables and cool season vegetables in designated childcare center gardens. Time to Harvest covers how to evaluate the maturity of specific fruits and vegetables, judge their readiness for harvest, and ways to incorporate them in recipes or activities.

Childcare centers are encouraged to grow additional fruits and vegetables not covered here and continue inventing fun, engaging learning activities focused on gardening processes. Contact your local Cooperative Extension agent to learn which fruits and vegetables grow well in your area.

The Gardening Activity Guide is a product of the COLEAFS project (Childcare Outdoor Learning Environments as Active Food Systems), supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant, 2017-68001-26354, from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).