We like to encourage gardening with children. A few years ago we created t-shirts that read, “We love to play in the dirt”. They were available in both adult and child sizes, but many were given away to children that came into the Garden Center. The supply didn’t last long! But what I hope was more long-lasting was the children’s interest in the garden.
Every Child Belongs in a Garden
As suburban dwellers, we often don’t know where our food comes from or appreciate the work it takes to grow, transport, and store food or to create a garden that is a feast for the eyes. Spending time in the garden teaches not only how natural systems are at work in a garden – the different soils, the multiple critters that live in and enrich the soil, plant life and life cycles, and what all creatures need to survive, but time in a garden teaches life skills as well.
Gardening takes patience and experimentation. Every gardener has faced disappointments. And not everything goes as planned. Ask anyone who has ever planted zucchini! Even success brings its share of problems.
Children can learn by doing, not just about the garden and its inhabitants, but also about themselves. Helping plan, plant and tend a garden can cultivate attributes and life skills such as responsibility, independence, and problem solving. It can be an expression of creativity, blending colors, shapes, textures to make a beautiful garden.
Thoughts to Consider
- When gardening with children start small. Give them their own spot in the garden. Their commitment will be stronger if it belongs to them.
- Help with the planning and give age-appropriate choices. For a very young child offer just a couple of choices. “Would you like pink petunias or white petunias?” As they age, children can accept a wider array of choices.
- If you are starting with seeds, make it easier for tiny fingers and choose plants that have bigger seeds, quick germination, and vigorous growth such as sunflowers or morning glories. You can measure the daily growth and chart it together.
- Mix vegetables and flowers. Include bee-friendly flowers to entice pollinators. Explain the importance of pollinators to the food crops to increase your yield. Great examples for the veggie garden include sweet alyssum, zinnias, cosmos, and nasturtiums.
- Have a little fun with a Pizza Garden: peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and basil. By mid -summer you will be making your own pizza!
- Make tending fun. Make a list together of the things that need to be done to help take care of the garden.
- More fun: let them play in the water on a hot day, being sure to water the plants carefully first, and then cool themselves off.
The 4-H Club has programs around the country encouraging children to get outside and into the natural world. I love their mission statement:
Our mission is to promote an understanding of plants and the role they play in our daily lives; Nurture the wonder in a child’s imagination and curiosity; Provide a place of enrichment and delight for children of all ages.
- More information on the 4H in Oakland County
- A list of events through MSU Extension Service
- If you struggle to find ways to get your kids to eat healthy or want to learn more about gardening with children here is a PBS article http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2016/03/gardening-kids-affects-childs-brain-body-soul/ with advice on gardening with children and how gardening affects a child’s brain, body and soul.
More than a seed is planted in a garden
When children have a relationship to the natural world, they will be better prepared to make wise decisions about it. Encourage your children to get outside and get moving. A garden can be a wonderful place to grow.