In the Garden:
Vegetables aren't the only interesting things kids can pick in a vegetable garden!
Grow a Love For Gardening
Kids love growing things. In fact, the kid in all of us is drawn by the fascination of watching something grow and the satisfaction of growing our own food and flowers. I have taught gardening to children in schools and summer camps, and to my own private passel of progeny at home. Gardening with children gives me a new look at the hobby as kids have a unique perspective on gardening and definitely march to the beat of their own drummers! Here are a few things I have learned from gardening with children that make for a more rewarding experience in the "kinder garden."
Keep it Simple and Easy
We adults have a little more patience and can get behind a long complicated gardening endeavor. Most kids dive in with zeal, and 10 feet down the row are ready for something new. I show them how I prepare the soil but basically get the spot ready to go so they can move in for the planting. I know several folks who grew up having to work in a large family garden where there was a lot to take care of and it was not very fun. They appreciate the experience but no longer care to mess with a garden as the memories are of work and tedium instead of adventure, fun, and discovery. How sad. There is plenty of time for learning diligence and patience. For young children, keep it simple and easy and you'll get them hooked on gardening for life.
We all like fast results. Microwaves, fast food, you name it, we want it asap. Kids can really get into things that bring rapid results. While the very nature of gardening is anything but instant, we can provide some quick rewards to go with the delayed gratifications of gardening. Perennial flowers may take a year or more to look their best. Some vegetables, such as winter squash and sweet potatoes, demand patience. To keep kids interested, every vegetable garden needs some lettuce and green beans. Every flower garden needs some zinnias. They are fast, attract butterflies, and make nice cut flowers too. After getting the initial planting of flowers and veggies in, turn your attention to garden trellises, garden ornaments, additional plantings, etc., so there's always something going on. A bird feeder is a great way to keep interest high and provide immediate results.
Harvest the Rewards
Children love harvest time. Cut flowers and fresh vegetables and fruits are their own reward. Make a big deal out of harvest time. Bring some vegetables in to cook or some fruits to make jam. Take some cut flowers to friends, relatives, or an elderly neighbor. You know how we gardeners love to give our bounty as a gift. Kids are the same, and it sure goes a long way in teaching them the love of giving. When they see the eyes of someone receiving that vase of zinnias or jar of jam they made, they won't forget it.
Our gardens are teeming with creepy crawlies. Take an insect safari through the garden frequently to examine plants for insects. Teach kids about the beneficial insects and the pests, too. Let them raise a butterfly from a caterpillar, watch the tiny wasps emerge from parasitized aphids in a jar, or watch a lady beetle larvae munch out on aphids. Buy a hand lens for you and one for them. There is always something new in the garden.
Lessons in Life
The natural world is a canvas onto which most of life's lessons have been painted. A garden provides an endless supply of object lessons, pictures of life's parables for the wise. Give a child a lecture and you'll lose them before you finish the first sentence. Show them something in a garden and tie it to life, and they'll learn without even knowing it: Weeds grow in untended, bare soil; The best things in the garden take time; Even a small seed can lift a heavy clod of dirt; A giant oak grows from a small acorn slowly over time; There is a right time when things are ripe to harvest; It is easier to stop weeds when they are just getting started than to tackle a neglected knee-high patch of weeds; No matter how miserably you fail at growing something, you can always start over and try again with the hope of wonderful results. Gardens are filled with visual proverbs waiting to be explained. The true quality time of an adult and child working in the garden opens the door to the mind and heart where life's lessons can be planted and grow.
Take advantage of this gardening season to introduce a child to the wonders of gardening. Start them on the path to a lifetime of enjoyment in the wonderful hobby of planting and tending a garden.
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