Are you looking for a few creative ways to foster literacy in your homeschool? Create a DIY word garden for a little hands-on, reading and writing and fun, perfect for ages 2 and up.
This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.
We broke out of the gate over scheduled and over committed. Our classical homeschool hybrid ceased to be the right fit for our family. Schoolwork became a source of drudgery, not joy, and we slid back to where we were when we first decided to homeschool.
The kids weren’t learning. I wasn’t loving. And none of us was really living, either.
Our homeschool was on life support by the time we got to spring break.
Thank God for vacation, right?
In April we traveled to Huntsville, Alabama to see my husband’s family. Amidst all the sightseeing and family time, we squeezed in a visit to Huntsville’s Botanical Gardens. We played in the water features, explored a good deal of the property’s 112 acres, and had a blast in the butterfly and children’s gardens. But a small attraction tucked off to the side initiated a huge change in our homeschool.
Close to the entrance of the Botanical Gardens is a covered, converted picnic table filled with sand and painted rocks.
It’s called The Thought Table: an inviting, hands-on space for sensory and literacy play.
My homeschooling heart fell in love.
The premise behind the Thought Table is simple. Its creators painted words and images on smooth river stones, then laid them atop the sand. A sign overhead invites visitors to “create a message using these very special message rocks,” and that’s exactly what we did. My family spent 15 minutes digging, raking, and moving rocks to spell out thoughts and sentences. Even my two non-readers got in on the fun, making silly phrases with pictures.
My children laughed, contemplated, and worked together, their enthusiasm increasing with each message they built. The Thought Table reignited what had been missing in our homeschool: delight-directed learning, intellectual creativity, and hands-on exploration.
Our standard approach to homeschooling would never elicit such a reaction – not unless we could bring that passion home.
At Home with a DIY Word Garden
My creative juices were flowing by the time we left the Gardens. I knew I had to create the same experience in our backyard, but how? I don’t have the space for a covered picnic table, and a regular sandbox didn’t seem viable. Keeping it transportable and on a smaller scale looked like the thing to do.
Creating a DIY Word Garden
Step 1: Gather your supplies
If you have access to river stones, great! I had to buy mine (yes, I ordered rocks on Amazon) because Northern Virginia’s standard rock specimens don’t provide a suitable surface. I also purchased something to keep the finished product in, both for convenience and safety. Feel free to experiment and adapt as you see fit.
- One 30 lb box of red river stones
- One six pack of Sterilite large clip boxes (I only used three for this project; the remainder were dedicated for Legos)
- Play sand (I had some on hand, check your local hardware or toy store as Amazon’s offerings aren’t great)
- Acrylic paints (washable will work, too, but don’t get the finished product wet)
- Assorted paint brushes (fine tip are best)
- Newspaper, butcher paper, and rags for clean up
Step 2: Gather your words
I used the creation of our word garden for a quick grammar review. Since B is relatively young, I talked about parts of speech in terms of “stuff” (nouns), “what stuff does” (verbs), “how stuff does something” (adverbs), and “what stuff’s like” (adjectives). We used this handy printable to make a list of words we wanted to use. (If you already have the resource library password, just click here.)
Step 3: Get to work
We set out the paints and rocks on a table outside, then went down the list. G painted words and images, B painted images, and F mostly painted himself (with watercolors – no way I’m giving my little guy acrylics!). By the time we were done, we had a pretty sizable collection of words for our garden.
Step 4: Build your box
If you’re using clip boxes like the ones I bought, fill the box with about two to three inches of sand and lay your words on top. You don’t have to keep them in any discernible order; you’ll be able to move the words between boxes as needed. Once they are filled, you can stack them for convenient storage and pull them out when ready to play.
The Benefits of Word Garden Play
Word gardens are a versatile learning tool. You can use them indoor or out; structured or for creatively. I’ve opted to use ours more organically (letting the kids form sentences on their own), but it hasn’t stopped me from noting a host of physical and intellectual benefits.
As my children have built and experimented with the word garden, they have:
- worked on their fine and gross motor skills
- engaged in a multi-sensory learning experience
- written collaboratively in a supportive environment
- enjoyed a family-centered approach to literacy
- practiced emerging literacy skills and refined those already established
- discovered the power of individual words
- experimented with sentence structure and length
- encountered aspects of the writing process
Word gardens are the perfect play and learning tool for every literacy level, from to pre- to master readers.
They also inject a level of creativity and engagement that a traditional curriculum might lack. Since we’ve started using ours, I see a renewed passion for learning in all of us – a passion which strengthens my conviction to homeschool all over again.
Homeschooling may have been a struggle, but the difficulty has born something beautiful.
I’m excited to see where it leads.