As a mother who homeschools her kids, I’m always looking for fun, hands-on learning experiences. But the truth is, no matter where your kids go to school, they learn constantly. Think of it this way: The whole world is a classroom. Opportunities to learn abound. And it can all begin right in your own back yard.

Emily with carrots

Emily proudly shows off her harvest of baby carrots. Carrots are one easy-to-grow crop that kids love to eat – and while you’re at it, talk about plant structure, photosynthesis or earthworms!

Photo Credit: John Donley

Emily and Dad

While Emily and her dad enjoy working in the garden together, it’s important each child has his or her own little bed to care for.

Photo Credit: Tracy Donley

Garden math lesson

Kids won’t even realize they’re having a math lesson as they calculate how far apart to sow the seeds!

Photo Credit: John Donley

Digging in the garden

Kids of all ages love to dig in the dirt!

Photo Credit: John Donley

In fact, the garden is an ideal place to learn. After all, most kids naturally love to dig in the dirt. Start by giving kids their own little garden plot. It might be that you divide an existing garden into kid-friendly spaces. Or perhaps you can create several small raised beds. Look around. Could you convert an old sandbox into a garden? Fill a rusty wagon with flowers? Or how about turning regular terra-cotta pots into works of art by painting them and gluing on plenty of sparkles? Just make sure kids have their very own special space to garden, give them excellent soil, a ready supply of water and a spot with plenty of sunlight.

Next, select plants that will grow successfully in your area. Several no-fail vegetable choices for most zones are lettuces, cherry tomatoes, bush beans, carrots and – if you have room – pumpkins. Also try to work in some herbs so your kids can experience their amazing smells and textures. Some easy herbs to try are lemonbalm, mint, rosemary and basil. And don’t forget the flowers! Try sunflowers, zinnias and marigolds, or in spring, sow wildflower seeds native to your area.

Remember, kids can learn far more in the garden than just how to garden. Among those little seedlings out there are science lessons waiting to be taught. Use the garden to teach about everything from photosynthesis and plant structure to earthworms, beneficial insects, pollinators, the food chain, ecology, decomposition, habitat, keeping a field journal and caring for the environment! (The list goes on and on.) Let kids observe and log the journey from seed to seedling to full-grown plant. Experiment with watering, feeding and soil composition, and then let your growing scientists enjoy the nutritious benefits of fresh veggies from the garden.

And yes, there are math lessons to be had in the garden, too. Kids can measure plants at regular intervals and plot the growth on graphs. They can calculate how many seeds to sow in a given space based on how large the plants are likely to grow. Your learning gardeners can even take daily temperature readings and observe how temperatures affect different plants. Younger children will enjoy sorting seeds, measuring how deep to plant them, making predictions about how large the plants will grow, and looking for patterns and shapes in leaves and flowers.

Reading in the garden is another wonderful experience. Read everything from great literature to fun picture books. Sit outside amid the plants with your children or grandchildren and crack open The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Grandma’s Garden by Mercer Mayer or Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, to name a few. There’s also an abundance of amazing garden- and nature-inspired poetry out there. After you’ve read for a while, pass out the notebooks and pens and let kids write their own thoughts, stories and poems. When you go back inside, dig a little deeper and let the children discover how literature and poetry are often influenced by the authors’ love of their own gardens. (Emily Dickenson, for example, was a passionate gardener, and it’s easy to see her love of nature spilling over into her writing.)

Of course, there’s always an art lesson waiting in the garden as well. Share with children all kinds of garden-inspired art. Read books like The Magical Garden of Claude Monet by Laurence Anholt, then pass out sketchbooks and pencils, crayons or paints, head outside and watch your budding artists start to bloom. Even the youngest children will enjoy creating mosaic pictures of their garden with colorful scraps of paper.

Yes, the garden is a wonderful classroom! And along with the bushels of veggies and bouquets of blooms you can grow together, you can harvest an abiding connection to nature and a love of learning that will last a lifetime.