Tuesday, May 29, 2012 12:11 PM EDT
There are countless ways in which gardening is beneficial to children. It's fun, healthy, educational and empowering. They might not realize its worth, but really, that's not the point.
A young grower, deservedly proud of her wheatgrass. Photo by Jennifer Tibbitt.
Few approaches to education can be more effective than the hands-on variety; without doubt, gardening is all about being hands-on. What a special, fun opportunity for kids: they get a space of their own, they are encouraged to get dirty and mucky (bonus: play with water), and they get front-row seats — rows of seeds, mind you — at the wonder of growth.
As with any instructional process, it is important that the teachers approach the pupils with patience and care. Gardening is always a work in progress, and is best not “shovelled” in on the day before a major deadline. Youngsters derive the most benefit (and, again, not just educational but fun) from being involved at every step possible.
Kids and Gardening: The basics
- Start small (1 pot) for really little kids, gradually doling out more space as they grow older.
- Pick a crop: little kids can handle bigger seeds, smaller seeds for bigger kids; let them grow whatever they desire.
- Challenge tweens and teens to plant a variety of crops, harvest and then cook. It will encourage healthy eating.
- Congratulate them on all their hard work in the garden — they should be proud!
Kids and Gardening: The age groups
Young kids: Start any time
Whether it's by helping you make a mess digging in the dirt and dropping a seed into the ground, letting them water the soil, or giving them a pot to plant up — kids can start gardening at any age. And the sooner, the better. Teach them the simple first steps: how to cover the seed with soil and gently water. Sunflowers, nasturtiums, peas or beans are all good starter seeds, as the reward (growth) is quick to come.
From kids to tweens: Let them make their own decisions
As young gardeners gain confidence, they can claim more space, whether it be a plot of their own or a few more balcony pots. Let them grow whatever catches their imagination, be it flowers, veggies or basket upon basket of strawberries. Errors will be made, tears might ensue (especially if basket upon basket of strawberries should fail to grow), and there can even be anger (at all ages!). Still, life lessons apply, such as learning from your mistakes and problem solving. And all that hard work results in beautiful plants they can, and will, be proud of.
Teens: A different kind of green?
Particular challenges can arise when kids hit their teen years (not just in gardening, of course). Perhaps somewhere, sometime they hear that digging in the ground isn't hip, or maybe their interest wanes. Nevertheless, be patient: They often return after a brief wander out in the world. Sometimes a little incentive helps — as in, cash. I recall, during my eye-rolling teen years, the best garden in the neighbourhood was the one where we got paid 25 cents per weeded row (I guess that ages me!).
Look, a teenager who's not playing video games! Photo by Jennifer Tibbitt.
FOR KIDS OF ANY AGE: Don’t be bossy
Cast aside any bossy tendencies, as children quickly tire of the same old parental lecture (older kids especially). It’s up to you to work beside the kids and be -- here's that term again -- patient. Don’t forget that you are sowing the seeds of a future green-thumber, so let them make a mess! (Make a bit of a mess yourself, and remember how fun it was to be young!) And if you find them following you around the garden while you weed and water? Congratulate yourself for bringing another gardener into the fold.