By: Elisabeth Ginsburg
What is better for growing children than the act of growing plants? Kids have relished digging in the dirt for millennia and shoveling mud is really only a short step from planting and tending a garden. The combination of kids, seeds, dirt and simple tools creates the best kind of growth—in the garden and in the children.
The benefits of youth gardening are clear. Children who garden plug into the environment and unplug from omnipresent technology. Horizons expand as young gardeners develop relationships with the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it. Growing edible plants also teaches kids where food comes from, which in turn fosters healthier eating. Ornamentals offer lessons about beauty, pollination and the cycles of life. Moving around outdoors also helps reduce childhood obesity–no matter what kind of plants sprout in the garden.
Inspiration: Children may or may not listen to what we say, but they often do what we do. If you are a gardener, let even your youngest children see you tending beds or containers. Even if they seem uninterested, the act of gardening will appear natural to them. If you are not a gardener, never fear. You and your offspring can learn side-by-side and the discoveries you make together will enrich your relationships.
Grab inspiration from the nearest available source. Visit nearby school gardens. Check out local botanical institutions, which may have children’s gardens, complete with child-size features, kid friendly layouts and interactive activities to get the little ones engaged. Look into classes offered by those same institutions, as well as the local 4-H Club, Master’s Gardeners or other groups. Your kids will be taught by people who are passionate about gardening and that kind of enthusiasm is likely to be contagious.
Get Growing: Start something at home. If you have outdoor garden space, give your kids a small area where they can grow anything they want. If you are an apartment dweller or don’t have any in-ground space, let each child have his or her own container on the porch or terrace. Spring is a great time to start, but you can get growing at any time of the year. Many herbs, flowers and even vegetables can also be grown indoors under the right conditions. In late summer, plant greens to harvest in the fall. In mid to late fall present children with big amaryllis bulbs, which are easy to plant, require minimal care, grow rapidly and bloom spectacularly.
If you don’t own garden tools, invest in a few simple ones, including a trowel, spade and watering can. Some manufacturers make small-size garden tools designed for kids, but most children can do just fine with standard size tools. Give young gardeners’ young plants the best chance of success by using quality planting media, like Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Soil and good soil amendments such as Fafard Peat Moss.
Spoiled for Choice: Let children grow what they like to eat and they will be more likely to tend to plants. Do your children like to pick flowers? Help them plant easy-to-grow varieties like nasturtiums or sunflowers. Once the plants bloom, let young flower lovers pick and arrange the flowers themselves. Display the bouquets prominently and praise them lavishly. A little encouragement is the best fertilizer.
Help Is At Hand: Resources abound for parents and grandparents who want to get growing with children. One good one is a book, Sunflower Houses: Inspiration From the Garden – A Book for Children and Their Grown-ups, by veteran garden writer Sharon Lovejoy. The American Horticultural Society offers a host of ideas, plus a directory of gardens with kid-friendly features. Find it at the Society’s website. The National Gardening Association sponsors kidsgardening.org, a website that promotes family, school and community gardening efforts.
Remember that the ultimate goal of gardening with children is to have fun. As with all things garden-related, the end result—whether tasty vegetables or bright blooms—is less important than the process.
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