PLANTING WITH KIDS
How many times have your kids ran into the house to surprise you with a handful of dandelions accompanied by a face that could light up the sky, because they are so proud that they picked you beautiful flowers? Or how many times has your kids picked your prize flowers to bring them to you as a gift? Why not give your kids their own garden plot and let them grow plants that they love to eat and look at. Gardening with your kids can be a fun and learning activity for them and who knows, you may learn something too. Help them pick a place that’s all theirs. Keep it kid-sized, you don’t want your kids to become overwhelmed– starting out small will set them up for success. Make sure their plot is a sunny, well-draining, and is easy for them to reach for watering.
BENEFITS OF TEACHING CHILDREN TO GARDEN
Gardening can be one of the most coolest ways to bond with your children all year round. Children can learn a great deal about the workings of science and nature from plants, animals, to insects. You can create an opportunity for your kids to learn through gardening, it helps them develop an important life skill, and it builds their self-esteem. If you child is planting and tending to a garden, they not only engage in their natural curiosity about the wonders of the world, gardening teaches them all of the following:
- Nurturing as they are caring and tending to their plants.
- Patience while they wait for their garden to sprout.
- Responsibility because they are responsible to perform certain tasks in their garden (watering, weeding).
- Understanding that all living things including plants need water.
- Self-confidence from growing their own plants that produced healthy food that they can enjoy.
- Nature: children can learn about the world around them by observing and interacting with the beauty, resilience and intricacy of all living things.
- Nutrition as they learn about producing and consuming healthy foods. Children who grow their own vegetables are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables as well as expressing a preference for these foods.
- Discovery because they are learning about the science of all species including plants, animals, as well as weather, the environment, nutrition and how to construct a garden.
- Creativity where they are involved with growing their own food, developing new ideas for planting their garden, and coming up with cool recipes to make their food.
- Interacting with others and working as a team (teamwork).
- Good work ethic because they are routinely working and caring for their garden.
TIPS ON GARDENING WITH CHILDREN
It’s never to early to get your kids involved in gardening and teach them how to grow their own food. Here are some fun suggestions to get your kids started in growing their own vegetables, fruits, and flowers.
- Give your child their own garden space, it does not have to be big and if you do not have yard space, you can start with a large container or a few pots. If you have an old child’s swimming pool, use it to create a plastic swimming pool garden once it has been properly cleaned and prepared (making sure to cut part of the bottom out of the pool for proper drainage). They do not take up much room and your kids will love their garden space.
- Choose a nice sunny spot or with as much sun as possible. If you do not have a spot with a lot of sun, choose plants that thrive in shade.
- Keep it simple, age appropriate, fun, and exciting. Kids will be more interested and want to get involved if you make it a fun activity. Let them decorate their garden with their own art projects (they can make pinwheels, plant stakes, and other ornamental effects).
- Take your kids shopping, let them get their own gardening tools and make a garden kit of their own. There are many gardening tools made just for kids with bright colors. Don’t forget the gloves, each child should have a pair of his or her own gardening glove where they can choose from a variety of wonderful colors and patterns that fit their personality. Buy a watering can that your child can fill and carry. If the watering can is suited to your child’s size, they will be more encouraged to water their garden.
- Show your kids how to clean their tools and make an easy access place where they can store and reach them. Get creative, if you have a wood box laying around, let your child decorate it to keep their tools in one place.
- Let your kids choose their own seed packets. There is a wide variety of plants that are easy to grow such as sunflowers, radishes, squash, tomatoes, lettuces, peas, beans, carrots, strawberries, pumpkins, poppies, and marigolds. Make sure they choose a few plants that will produce edible food so they can pick their harvest and share them at snack or meal time.
- For smaller kids, let them begin with a seed starter. Use a cardboard egg carton and fill the sections with dirt, once the seeds spout you can cut the carton sections and plant the whole section in the ground. The carton will disintegrate, no seeds or seedlings get lost in the transition, and tiny hands will be able to handle the transitioning plant easier.
- Plant some flowers that attract butterflies, ladybugs, hummingbirds, and other fun insect and birds.
- Use a variety of plants that enhances senses including touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound.
- Let your child pick their own harvest and help prepare food or pick their own flowers and prepare a bouquet. There is nothing better than seeing the excitement on a youngsters face when they eat a perfect vegetable that they grew themselves or made a beautiful arrangement of flowers that they grew themselves.
NOTE: Teach your children that it is important to be careful with their tools and more importantly show them how to use them (hold them, what there purpose is, and just like scissors, never run when holding them). Never leave a small child unsupervised, small children love to put things in their mouth and they may come across something around the garden that may be poisonous. My little ones were taught early not to touch unknown berries, leaves and flowers. I walk around with them and show them which plants are safe to eat. There are many pests and critters and some of them may invade a garden so teach your kids how to recognize good and bad pests. Teach them also not to touch or disturb ant, wasp or bee nests. By explaining early on to your kids about the wonders of nature, they will form respect for these critters and not be afraid of them.
AGE APPROPRIATE GARDENING
There has been an increased interest in gardening in recent years and more and more people have become aware that involvement in natural environments are positive experiences for their kid’s wellbeing. One of my favorite childhood memories was spending time outdoors, picking fresh veggies and eating them off the vine, running around and chasing fireflies, climbing trees, and picking berries. One of my favorite adult pass times now is spending time with my children and grandchildren in the garden. Gardening with toddlers to adolescents opens windows to the appreciation of the natural world around them and it allows us to bond and develop memories that are priceless. A garden gives you a place to connect with each other year round. There are important thing to remember with children and first-time gardeners and I want to share some of my gardening tips for age appropriate gardening based on my observations and experiences as a gardener and parent so you and your little ones can sprout memories that will last a lifetime.
Kids naturally love digging in the dirt. getting dirty, creating things and watching plants grow. Let your kids dig through the dirt with a small plastic hand trowel to look for worms. Teach your kids how to plant seeds and care for them. Start seedlings in a plastic cup, plant a few pea or bean seeds for fast results and easy growing, kids will love to watch their plants grow. You can also use an egg cartons as green houses. Let your kids fill the cups with soil, once the cups are filled let them plant the seeds. Water the cups thoroughly and cover the carton with plastic wrap or a plastic bag (you will not have to water again until your seeds begin to sprout), place them in a sunny spot. “Presto” your child has their very own green house. Once you see that there are little sprouts, take the plastic off and keep the soil moist. When the plants are big enough, you can cut the containers apart and help you kids transfer them into an outside garden area (the egg cartons are bio degradable).
Older children are ready for a bigger garden because they are able to dig, plant, water, and weed. Whether you use a raised garden bed, a design garden plot (circle, triangle, butterfly shape), or a simple square garden plot for your child, make sure that it is not too big. If you start small, it can always be extended the following year. Start your child’s garden near yours (keeping them separate), your child will want to work in their garden more if you are out there working in yours. Don’t expect perfection, listen to their ideas and let them experiment and personalize their own garden. At this age your child should be ready to use basic gardening tools because plastic tools break easily and this can become very frustrating. When my son was ready for his own garden, my hoe and garden rake was still too tall for him, we went to a few rummage sales and bought his own tools and sawed the handle shorter to fit his size. Start from seeds, kids learn more by seeing the growing process from the seeds. Start the seeds indoors until they are ready for transplanting. Let them plant and nurture their garden bed as well as harvesting and preparing their crops on their own but with supervision. Depending on the age of your child, you may have to help a little, that does not mean that you should intervene or that your help even needs to be known. Going out and checking for insects, pulling some weeds that were not noticed or checking the garden for moisture are a few simple things that can be done behind-the-scenes. Show how proud you are of your child’s garden bed, take pictures, show people that are visiting, and share their their progress with friends and family. And remember, creating opportunities for kids to learn through gardening will engage their natural curiosity about natures cycle of life firsthand which will be something they will care about throughout time.
HOW GARDENING AFFECTS A CHILD’S BRAIN, BODY, & SOUL
Gardening and the BRAIN:
Kids are naturally curious and gardening encourages kids in wanting to learn more about science, math, and the environment. Kids tend to want to know how plants get water, why they need sun, and what good bugs and bad bugs do. Lets not forget the math, kids measure plants from week to week, count how many flower are on each plant, and measure the amount of rain that falls. You can talk to your kids about how brain-boosting vegetables such as how spinach, garlic and beets help with brain development and why they are important to grow and eat, and good for overall health. Gardening is a great cognitive activity; according to a recent study, it has been shown that kids who engage in gardening score higher in science achievement tests compared to those who do not garden. Additionally; there are numerous studies that indicate that gardening strongly supports increases in overall academic performance and achievement and students attitudes towards learning. Gardening and children couldn’t be any better of a natural combination, and there are many cognitive skills that are acquired and reinforced when children engage in gardening projects.
Gardening and the BODY:
Studies have shown that children who engage in gardening promotes positive attitudes and behavior towards eating fruits and vegetables which has positive effects on their body, influences attitudes and behavior about obesity, and increases physical activity, The act of gardening also promotes both fine and gross motor skill development. Children are using their large muscles moving from one place to another, carrying and lifting soil, water buckets, and tools. When children use trowels and rakes, pick up small seeds (grasping and pinching) they are developing their fine motor skills. Children who are exposed to dirt and nature in the formative years develop healthier, stronger immune systems and have lower incidences of asthma, eczema, and allergies compared to kids that are kept indoors.
Gardening and the SOLE:
Gardening is good for a child’s sole and getting up close and personal with dirt can improve not only a child’s physical health, but their mental health too. Gardening is a stress reliever and has a calming effect on children. It has an immediate impact on happiness, a long term positive effects on mood, and it has been shown that kids who garden make more intimate connections with others. Kids that engage in gardening reach out to their peers and form shared bonds resulting from their common interests, and form an increases concern and empathy towards others according to some studies. Gardening teaches kids to foster their sense of “nurturing” and it helps them learn to care for other living thing. It promotes social interaction, growth, bonding, improves mood, and has many other social, emotional, and physical benefits. Additionally; research has shown that gardening may reduce Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms in kids and that the attention of children with ADHD functions better after spending time in more natural settings. These findings suggests that gardening and engaging in green-spaces may help supplement established treatments to improve children’s functioning.
You can start with a small garden in your backyard, use container planters on your patio, or use green planters in your house to start teaching your kids about the beauty of gardening, the care involved in the planning and nurturing of your plants and about enjoying all the benefits that come from growing one’s own garden.
I hope you enjoyed what you read today and if you have anything you would like to add, please leave a comment.