Little Green Thumbs’ Skill School #1: Can You ⛏️DIG IT?

Welcome! Thanks for dropping by to take a peek at our 🍳6 WEEK SUMMER SKILL SCHOOL🧵 Series! We’re on week one, and starting things off in the garden! We hope you will join us in cultivating your own little green thumbs!


Gardening Week, Day 1: Can you DIG IT?

Today we are kicking things off with . . . DIRT! Join us in getting down to earth and teaching our kids some soil prep and landscaping skills!

SKILL SUPPLY LIST:

  • child-sized gardening tools
  • child-sized gardening gloves (if the child doesn’t care for getting hands dirty)
  • bucket
  • full-sized shovels, rake, and hoe only for older children (perhaps eight)
  • safety goggles (depending on age and coordination of the child)

VOCABULARY TO INTRODUCE:

  • tools: shovel, rake, spade, trowel, flat-nosed spade/shovel, hoe
  • digging terms: dig, fill, transfer, deep-bed, trench, mound, mote, berm

Of all the activities I came up with for our thirty-day Skill School Series, DIGGING stood out to me as perhaps the most applicable, as well as most symbolic skill to start with.

Digging is practical; there’s not much fanciful or abstract about a shovel.

Digging is simple—scoop, lift, dump, repeat.

Digging is slow. Sometimes painfully so.

Digging is intentional; you need a hole, you dig it. You need a mound, you mound it. If something’s dead, you bury it.

Digging is satisfying and gives you something to show for your efforts . . . hopefully a great big pile of it.

Digging is timeless. We’re still doing it three thousand years later.

Digging is hard flipping work.

And digging infers depth; precisely what we often lack in teaching children.

In our culture and standard education system, we tend to sacrifice a rich and deep understanding of a few things in favor of a cursory, weak understanding or exposure to many things. This is not wholly bad. After all, we want our kids to be able to choose a direction for their lives with every door having been opened to them, or at least every window having been peeked into. However, when teaching children, and perhaps especially when “Skill Schooling,” I would like to humbly suggest that it is not *necessarily* better to devote a day to a major crash-course in all things gardening than it is to spend that entire day at a single task, such as digging.

Furthermore, digging is also a double-edged . . . spade . . . encompassing two skills in one. Of course, digging is a necessary hands-on skill to the task of transferring dirt. But digging also represents an intangible skill, yet one just as practical to life as digging any hole: the art of sticking with something to completion. If you like, you could refer to this life skill as the art of digging deep, so to speak. The first few scoopfuls of dirt are fun, the subsequent ones necessary for mastering the skill . . . but beyond that, mastery usually precedes both energy and completion when it comes to putting shovel to earth.

All that to say: some firm encouragement to DIG DEEP (both literally and figuratively) may be in order for today’s Skill School, as well as days (and years) to follow.


Lesson One: LITTLE TOOLS (and big ones, too!)

1.) Introduce young kids to their child-sized gardening tools. Teach them the names for each and have them repeat them back: spade, flat-nosed spade, rake, perhaps trowel as well. Introduce older kids to the family set of gardening tools in the same way: shovel, rake, hoe, flat-nosed shovel, trowel, etc.

2.) Next, demonstrate how to safely use each tool one at a time, allowing your child plenty of time to repeat each demonstration after you. If your child struggles to recreate your demonstration, simply do it again as many times as needed with your child attempting to copy you each time. Show your child how we always walk with sharp objects, facing them down toward the ground for which they are purposed. Here’s a simple little rhyme to help your child remember: “Tools point down toward the ground. Never up high toward our eye.” If using a hoe, be sure to show your child how to always stand it against something, hoe side in, when not in use. Demonstrate how the cartoon “hoe trap” can be a very real thing when a hoe is left lying in the grass blade up. I actually watched my sister split her tongue in half when we were little in this classic Bugs-Bunny method. So there’s a little anecdote you are welcome to share if you need some pomp and circumstance 😀 !

3.) Individually, explain when to use each tool. Show your child how a pointed spade is much more efficient at digging a deep hole than a flat-nosed spade. Perhaps allow your child to dig a small hole with each and see for herself. Demonstrate how scooping off the top of the dirt is more evenly accomplished with a flat-nosed spade. Show how a trowel can hack out a weed at a single, gratifying whack! Demonstrate how a rake can smooth out the ground for easy planting. After each demonstration, pause and allow your child to have a turn.

4.) Finally, allow your child to freely practice using his or her tools in your yard or garden after completing the lesson. Or, you may choose to accompany your child at a distance if you are not sure as to their proficiency with their tools yet. Step in to direct or assist your child when needed, but try to offer him space and autonomy whenever you can, even allowing a bit of struggle from time to time, and always allowing a degree of exploration and experimentation along the way (as long as it’s safe to do so 😆 ).


Lesson Two: DIRT DEVILS

Knowing how to move dirt is a very basic gardening skill to teach a child. You may want to have your child assist you with a specific digging task, such as digging out a deep-bed, filling gardening containers, transplanting, or making a mound, mote, or berm. These are especially good next-level digging tasks for older kids.

1.) Start by simply allowing your child to practice scooping dirt and transferring it into a bucket. A young child would use their small spade, and an older child may have a go with the shovel. Help as needed. And don’t forget to breathe. Work alongside your child and try to interfere as little as possible.

2.) Once a bucket is filled (and this may take some time), your child can “help” you move it to where it needs to go, or you may allow your older child to attempt carrying perhaps a half-gallon bucket.

3.) Next comes the satisfying task of emptying the bucket where dirt was needed and using tools, or the ever-versatile hands, to give it a good smooth out! Kids who really love to get their hands dirty will LOVE this task. Show your child how to (either independently or helping you) hold the bucket handle with one hand, position themselves directly over their target, and then carefully tilt the bucket over with their other hand. Sloosh!

4.) Moving rocks may also be an applicable skill in your family garden. Simply show your child how to gather the stones in a small bucket or pail and transfer them. We spent hours upon hours doing this with our kids this spring. Even our two-year-old gathered a pretty hefty share of rocks over the course of a couple weeks. As for myself, I really don’t care to ever move another rock ever again. I don’t even really want to look at another rock ever again.

In the end, it really doesn’t so much matter what they are digging for, it just matters that your child is given ample time to practice the skill of using a shovel or spade, ideally until his or her strength, and/or will gives out.

BONUS activity (just for fun!): DIG FOR WORMS!

Digging for worms is a great interest-directed way for a child to practice newly learned skills with his or her spade. Explain or remind your child that worms are essential for our soil, and then enlist his or her help to gather worms to move to the garden beds and containers. This is also a great activity to direct kids to while you are working in the garden and they have lost interest in whatever task they have previously been doing. In other words, an activity to keep them busy. Our son dug worms for days this past spring while my husband and I moved . . . . ugg . . . those rocks. Thankfully, our kids love “helping the plants to grow better” by furnishing the soil with lots of wiggly worms. Our son informs me often that a plant is looking “so much healthier” in our garden since he dug worms for it 😆 ! I’m sure it’s just his imagination . . . but then again, maybe he is simply more perceptive than I.


Tune in tomorrow for Day Two of Gardening Week: 😋HUNGRY DIRT!

Thanks so much for reading!

Love, ~Our Holistic Homeschool~

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