I am overjoyed when I see a child in a garden, knee-deep in dirt, with a very intent expression that breaks into an ear-to-ear grin at some new earthly wonderment. Gardening is a very healthy activity for kids. It teaches them several valuable life lessons, and adds vibrant food to their meals. If children grow vegetables, they are more likely to eat them, and grow them, throughout their lives.
Back to the Earth
Bringing children into a garden and supporting them to participate in the cycles of life literally brings them to the Earth. Gardening teaches children about the growth process and how to nurture something from seed to fruition. This imparts perseverance, self-esteem, and a sense of responsibility.
Gardening also teaches about the climate, the seasons of the year, the effects of weather, local animals and insects, and other aspects of nature. It also provides exercise, builds eye-hand coordination, and improves critical thinking skills.
Cultivating a plant from seed through harvest and finally returning the remains to the compost pile imparts a feeling of deep satisfaction. It also teaches children about the full circle of life and gives the understanding that, in nature, everything has a place and time.
In addition to the physical benefits of fresh air, exercise, and sunlight, gardening helps children be healthier by calming their nervous systems. Long days spent under florescent lighting or in front of electronic screens fries little nervous systems just like ours. Literally unplugging kids is a great way to support their physical and mental health.
In our speed-driven world, gardening teaches the true power of patience. Waiting for a plant to grow will help kids realize the preciousness of food as well as where it actually comes from, especially if they are accustomed to getting everything in a package from the store.
When children grow food it expands their choices. Children can be suspicious of unfamiliar foods. But if they have grown something themselves from seed or start, they will usually enjoy eating it. Access to and appreciation for a varied plant-based diet is one of the healthiest legacies you can give your children.
In this way, gardens become both a place of play and a place of health. Children begin to understand that growing food is both fun and rewarding. They get the joy of digging in the dirt and planting seeds and watching things grow. They also get the fulfillment of harvesting and eating what they have grown. And they are given the recognition of how good they feel after eating garden-fresh produce and how delicious real food tastes.
Finally, children are taught about giving when they share the surplus of what they have grown with you, your family, friends, and neighbors. Sharing the harvest teaches children about generosity and abundance. There is nothing like a childs shining pride when she says I grew that, and I want to share it with you!
Tips for a Child-friendly Garden
Do everything you can to set up your children for success. Gardening can be a challenging activity, so make it as easy as possible for your children.
- Choose a sunny location for the garden bed.
- Always use organic seeds, starts, soil amendments, and pest management protocols. These are better for the health of your children and the environment.
- Create a simple garden plan with wide paths. Make sure all plants will be easily accessible to honor the shorter reach of childrens arms.
- Give children their own garden beds. Keep the plots small so they do not get overwhelmed. Put their beds right in the middle, where you can both keep an eye on them and encourage them to feel special.
- Test the pH of your soil, and use the proper organic amendments to create optimal growing conditions. The healthier and more fertile the soil is, the healthier and more nutritious the food it grows.
- Start with just a few different types of plants.
- Give your children real garden tools that are appropriate for their sizes and ages. Plastic play tools will just frustrate and disappoint them.
- If you do not have space or enough soil for a garden outside, try a container garden.
- Have your children grow the plants from seeds whenever possible. You can use starts if it is late in the season or your children are very young. But children will have a richer experience if they get to be part of the whole process, from seed to table. The care and attention that young seedlings require will impart so much wisdom about nurturing young beings and ideas.
- or the first few rounds, choose easy to grow plants with short growing seasons. Lettuces, spinach, herbs, cherry tomatoes, radishes, snow peas, nasturtiums, and carrots are all relatively easy and satisfying for children to grow. Once they get the hang of it, work up to plants with longer seasons like kale, chard, collard greens, broccoli, beets, pumpkin, celery, potatoes, and cucumber. Alyssum, marigolds, cosmos, sunflowers, and zinnias add delightful color to the borders of your vegetable beds.
- Let this be fun for both you and your children, not just a chore. Offer constructive support and teach the necessary skills, but allow your children room to experiment. Part of the experience is learning what works and what doesnt. Let your childs imagination and creativity come through in how the garden is grown.
When children grow vegetables, they eat vegetables. They also get exercise, develop patience and perseverance, and learn the true value and deliciousness of food. They also learn a skill that will serve them their whole lives.