When my children were young, they loved nothing more than “helping” me in the garden. Unfortunately, they could often be found pulling out my flowers as quickly as I could plant them. Finally, I got wise and gave them their own patch of dirt to dig in.
Their curiosity was no surprise – gardening is natural fun for children. The opportunity to learn about how the sun, the rain, and even the worms play a part in making the world around us thrive is a great hands-on introduction to science! Gardening also gives them an opportunity to care for and nurture something, as they coax their plants to grow.
You don’t need a big yard to get your kids involved in gardening. In fact, too much garden space can be overwhelming, even for adults. A few pots of soil, a sunny spot outside, and a shovel are all it takes to get started. Your child’s responsibilities in the garden can grow as he or she does – from dropping seeds into the ground to watering from a can or a hose.
Make it rewarding
Planting from seed requires a little bit of patience, which can be a challenge for young children. Consider planning a mix of fast-growing vegetables, like lettuce and carrots, along with already-in-bloom marigolds as a border. Kids love the bright colored-marigolds, and as a bonus, the marigolds will deter slugs. If you have more space and the patience for a longer wait, plant pumpkins that you can harvest just in time for Halloween carving!
A garden is a great way to encourage kids to try new foods. While they may not be eager, even picky eaters will be tempted to taste vegetables they’ve grown themselves. Let them help you select the seed packets, and look for plants that will be bright and colorful – and delicious. One way to encourage kids to branch out is to plant a “rainbow” – planting foods that are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.
As any Pacific Northwest gardener can tell you, a garden teaches many lessons – some harder than others. Not every crop will be a success. There will be disappointments along the way, from tomatoes that never ripen to flowers that get munched on by bunnies. But the best lesson of all is the sense of accomplishment that comes from planting a seed and watching it sprout. Give your children a patch of dirt of their own to dig in, to plant their own seeds and watch them sprout.
By Jennifer Donahue