Teach Children to Love the Garden
By Laura Mathews
Gardens are much more than just soil and plants. They are a living classroom, a wise guru, and a fitness class, among many other--and possibly more important--things. What we learn and take away from gardens is transformative as adults, but for children, gardening establishes the way they will think about food, life and nature throughout their lives.
While it’s beneficial to get kids out into the garden with you, it’s not always attractive to them, at first. A child asked to help harvest green beans may balk at putting down their iPad or leaving the television.
Theresa Loe, of Living Homegrown, says there are several ways to entice children away from their video games and out into the garden and nature with their parents.
“Key to getting kids into the garden is to make it whimsical.” She said. Cute signs, meandering paths, archways, reveal to kids the magic that happens in the gardens.
“Grow something they love, like a berry,” she said. “But also grow something that they’ve never experienced before, like an unusual vegetable.”
“The best thing is a root crop, like a carrot, or a potato. When they are digging vegetables out of the soil, it’s like finding buried treasure,” she said.
Consider growing certain things to add whimsy. Plant a pizza garden with garlic and basil and tomatoes, then loop-in the kids into the cooking process at harvest. Plant short rows of corn in a square leaving a little room for a door, so as the corn grows it becomes tall playhouse walls.
Another way to draw kids into the garden is to share it with their friends. Have your child and their friends sow seeds together; then follow the process of germination and transplanting and finally harvesting the food from the garden. When the friends visit, follow each step with them. Set up competitions between your child and a friend to see who can pull the most weeds in 5 minutes or who can pick the most berries in a certain time period. Sharing with a friend, your child sees how much they enjoy gardening, as well, and it becomes ‘cool’. The added benefit is teaching other children to garden, as well. This also works with siblings.
When gardening along side your children, remember that the lessons of the garden are more important than perfection. Allow your child to choose certain vegetables or fruits to grow, even if you know they aren’t the best varieties. If your child dumps too much seed in a certain spot, or their rows are not perfect, hold off on the criticism to keep it fun. It’s about the learning. If your child mistakes strawberry plants for weeds, know that the runners will fill in those spots in the spring.
The lessons of the garden go beyond teaching your children to grow food. While important, the connection with nature sets the stage for a lifetime of concern for the earth.
“While it’s true, if they plant it, and they grow it, they will eat it,” Says Loe, “on top of that, they are outside gardening with you and away from all their electronics. “
“When they learn how to grow something, nurture it, they are learning to be stewards of the earth. They are learning to appreciate nature,” she said.
Of the gardening lessons we learn--like the magic found in watching a tiny seed transform to a huge vibrant plant powered by nothing other than sun, water and organic matter or discovering that soil is not dirty-- most important is learning to nurture a living thing, and ultimately, your family, through food. The importance of nurturing is a lesson that goes a long way to growing your child into a grounded happy adult.