Gardening is a wonderful way for kids to learn common bilingual vocabulary about food and nature while using fine and gross motor skills. If you don’t have a garden, but your kids are curious about the experience, you can try simple activities at home or in your yard for pretend play. These activities can also be used during speech and language therapy sessions.
Since we’re raising bilingual children, hands-on activities have been so helpful for boosting our minority language, Chinese. While the examples in this post feature Chinese translations, feel free to adapt this to any language that your family speaks!
Important vocabulary about planting in Chinese and English
Here are key words that you can target in simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Hanyu Pinyin, and English.
Plant vegetables 种菜 / 種菜 (zhòng cài)
- 泥土 (nítǔ / soil)
- 番茄 (fānqié / tomato)
- 茄子 (qiézi / eggplant)
- 豌豆 (wāndòu / peas)
- 黄瓜 (huángguā / cucumber)
- 树 / 樹 (shù / tree)
- 灌木 (guànmù / shrub)
- 橘子 (júzi / tangerine)
- 葡萄 (pútáo / grape)
- 西瓜 (xīguā / watermelon)
- 请帮忙种蔬菜 / 請幫忙種蔬菜 (Qǐng bāng máng zhòng shū cài / Please help plant vegetables).
- 请帮忙种水果 / 請幫忙種水果 (Qǐng bāng máng zhòng shuǐ guǒ / Please help plant fruit)
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1. Watering fruit and vegetable chalk drawings activity
If your driveway or yard has room to play with chalk, I hope your kids will love this activity as much as mine! We try to play outside as often as possible, and my kids had a blast pretending to water chalk drawings of fruits and vegetables.
- Colorful chalk
- Watering pot
How to set up the planting activity
- Draw fruits and vegetables.
- For kids who are ready to read, write words in black if you have light concrete or white if you have dark tar sidewalks.
- Call out the names of each fruit and vegetables as you water them!
- Optional: draw the various foods far apart so your kids have to run back and forth between them and get more energy out!
Here’s a video of my daughter having a blast with this activity back when she was 3 years old!
2. Planting and poking fruit and vegetables activity
A few months ago, we made these bilingual “sight word sticks” with stickers and craft sticks. After pasting the fruit and vegetable stickers on the sticks, my kids were quickly disinterested in the sticks. I wondered how give the sticks more purpose, and voila!
Both of my kids find it so satisfying to poke things into holes and slots! This planting activity is great for fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination, and if you’re kids are ready to read, it’s a fun way to practice matching.
- Craft sticks
- Fruit and vegetable stickers
- Brown box (eg, shoe box, cereal box, tissue box, package)
- X-acto knife or box cutter
- Black thin Sharpie Marker
How to set up the planting activity
- Write vegetable name on each stick.
- Affix food stickers to corresponding stick.
- Cut slots on box.
- Write names of vegetables next to box. If your kids aren’t ready to read, you stick an extra sticker for picture-to-picture matching.
- Insert sticks to slot with matching words (or matching pictures).
3. Planting fruits and vegetable stickers activity
Here’s another way to use the fruit and vegetable stickers! While reinforcing Chinese character recognition, we reviewed that foods that grow from trees versus the ground through this activity.
How to set up the activity
- Write food name on each stick. Since my daughter is learning Chinese & Korean, we wrote the Chinese translation on one side and Korean on the other side
- Affix stickers back-to-back to corresponding stick
- Use green and brown construction paper to create trees and soil
- Write names of fruit and vegetables on paper. Also label 树 (shù / tree) and 泥土 (nítǔ / soil)
- Affix stickers to corresponding word on paper. Use craft sticks for reference if unsure how to read character.
4. Pretend fruit and vegetable activity printables
My children have had so much fun playing with our fruit and vegetable printables! Learn about our free pretend play food printables in English, Chinese, and Korean in this post.
5. Visit local farms and farmer’s markets
Of course, the best way to really learn about gardening is the real deal!
I grew up in a small town in central New York with a large grassy yard where my mother could be found in the garden. We always had fresh vegetables (well, minus those long winters), and my mother took pride collecting seeds, nourishing them, and checking to see when they would be ready to cook.
If you have a garden, use rich language to narrate each of your actions to your kids. Label the vegetables and fruit in your target language, or turn labeling into an activity. A Taiwanese Australian mom, Irene Chang, had an inspiring idea to use recycled bottle caps and sticks to label her lovely garden!
Now I live in drought-ridden California with a black thumb, but our local farmer’s markets has blessed us with a large variety of fruits and vegetables year-round. We also have had fun picking strawberries, blueberries, peaches, nectarines, apples, and persimmons at nearby farms.
These have all been wonderful ways to naturally encourage our kids to speak the minority language and make happy memories!
Are your kids curious about fruit and vegetable planting activities?
Which of these were their favorite? I’d love to learn more about your family’s experiences. Please feel free to share in the comments.