By Carol J. Alexander
I love getting seed catalogs in the mail. Perusing seed catalogs on a cold winter night while a fire burns on the hearth beats reading the newest, best-selling novel any day. But dreaming of dirt running through my fingers is not the only reason I enjoy them so much. I also enjoy finding all the parent/child projects hidden between their pages.
Volumes have been written on the educational opportunities that parents find in gardening with their children. But what are you supposed to do while there’s snow on the ground? Dive into the pages of those seed catalogs as they arrive. What? You’ve never seen all the wonderful learning opportunities hiding in your seed catalogs? Well, you are in for a treat.
A fellow homeschooling friend shared with me one day a new math curriculum that she saw advertised. It was written by the Amish for the Amish. Instead of baseball stats and miles per gallon in vehicles for word problems, it had farming stories. That is the concept that I like to include in my homeschooling—use things that the children know and already understand. But you don’t have to homeschool to take advantage of real-life learning opportunities. You just have to train your eye to see them when they present themselves.
Let’s Get Started
Get a few seed catalogs. (See side-bar for list of resources.) It doesn’t matter which ones, but you might want a few extra copies. That way the kids can write in their own copies or even cut them up if appropriate. If you cannot obtain extras from the companies, ask your rural friends and neighbors. Everyone that homesteads or farms receives more seed catalogs than they actually use. You may also go into the local farm supply store and ask if they have anything that would work.
For the Little Guys
A young child can count how many tomatoes of each color he finds in the catalog. Have him add how many tomatoes in all. Do this with other vegetables or fruit.
Someone a little older can count how many peas are in the pod illustrated. Ask her if she picks 6 pods, how many peas will she have. If she picks 9 pods, how many peas will she have? You can come up with so many different math problems this way.
Along the top of a sheet of paper copy the name of the seed company. Then have your child make as many words as he can with those letters. Give him extra points for words with more than 4 letters.
Have your child locate the Zone Map in the catalog. Ask him which zone you live in, which zone Grandpa lives in, and again for Uncle George. What about other countries, continents, hemispheres? Talk of maps captivates most children. You may want to post a world map on a wall in your home. Or, lay one on the kitchen table and cover it with a clear plastic tablecloth. Leave it there a few months. It will generate great supper table conversations.
While you have your map out, choose a few products that originate in other countries (like Goji berries). Find those countries on your map. Research agricultural facts about those countries. What Zones would they be in? Is that the same as your Zone?
For the Older Ones
Your middle-aged child might enjoy filling out your seed order for you. If you are not ordering anything this year, have him make up an order. Have him fill out a form from three different catalogs to see which company would be the least expensive. Once he masters the paper form, have him visit the company’s website and fill out an order online. Just make sure to stop him in time if you truly don’t want to order anything.
Have you noticed the customer reviews highlighted in the catalog? Spend some time reading them together; then have your child write her own review of her favorite vegetable or gardening product.
Some seed catalogs sell books. Have your older, garden-loving child choose a book or two to read. Discuss this book with them. Another great discussion is the difference between hybrid, open-pollinated, heirloom, and genetically modified when it pertains to garden seeds.
If the catalog doesn’t give a satisfactory definition of these terms, suggest your kids look up the meanings somewhere else. Or, they can ask neighbors or friends that garden or farm.
Do your kids like to cook? Have a challenge to create three recipes using fresh fruits or vegetables that you normally grow in your garden. You can also encourage them to learn to cook and eat three new vegetables—something they’ve never tried. Then order the seeds and plant them in your garden come spring.
Whether you homeschool or not, these ideas are great for reinforcing what your child is learning in school. Get a few seed catalogs and see what you can see in them. I’m confident you will find many more things for your family to do together while the cold winter winds blow.
Carol J. Alexander looks for the lessons in every aspect of her family’s homesteading lifestyle. Currently, she is compiling a list of lessons from the chicken house.
Burpee Seeds & Plants
W. Atlee Burpee & Co.
300 Park Avenue
Warminster, PA 18974
Gurney’s Seed & Nursery Co.
P.O. Box 4178
Greendale, Indiana 47025-4178
Johnny’s Selected Seeds
955 Benton Avenue
Winslow, Maine 04901
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
P.O. Box 460
Mineral, Virginia 23117
Territorial Seed Company
P.O. Box 158
Cottage Grove, Oregon 97424-0061