​Little Green Thumbs: Introduce Your Kids to Gardening

By Laura Scoones

Ask a child where food comes from, and the answer will undoubt­ed­ly be the local Price Chop­per or Hannaford.

Chil­dren today grow up in a very dif­fer­ent world than the chil­dren of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. Many of today’s kids live in sub­ur­ban devel­op­ments — built on the land where farms once stood. Giv­en the acces­si­bil­i­ty of cheap processed foods, child­hood obe­si­ty is increas­ing. Giv­en the pro­lif­er­a­tion of tech­nol­o­gy, nature has become a for­eign territory.

Grow­ing veg­eta­bles with young chil­dren is a great learn­ing expe­ri­ence – to say noth­ing about nutri­tion and time spent in the nat­ur­al world. It can teach your child valu­able and long last­ing life skills includ­ing project plan­ning, patience, respect for liv­ing things, coop­er­a­tion, dis­ci­pline, and deci­sion mak­ing, in addi­tion to an expe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge of biol­o­gy and mathematics.

One of the eas­i­est ways to increase the con­sump­tion of fruits and veg­eta­bles in chil­dren is to involve them in the selec­tion, grow­ing, and prepa­ra­tion of these foods. Besides, gar­den­ing involves mud and water, and what kid doesn’t love that?

Deter­mine whether you will grow items from seed or will buy seedlings, and involve your chil­dren in the selec­tion. While grow­ing from seed is more eco­nom­i­cal, it takes patience, and often lit­tle ones lose inter­est along the way. It’s help­ful to start plants that ger­mi­nate quick­ly so your child stays engaged. Fast ger­mi­nat­ing seeds include radish­es, let­tuces, spinach, kale, peas, beans, cucum­bers, and squash­es. Plant things that will pro­duce inter­est all sum­mer, from flower to fruit. When the seed starts to emerge or a flower forms, get excit­ed and praise your child for his or her suc­cess.”

Deter­mine where you’ll plant. Talk with your child about the need for sun and easy access to water and, if he or she is old­er, about the mir­a­cle of pho­to­syn­the­sis. If you don’t have an ade­quate space to till or to accom­mo­date a raised bed, con­sid­er con­tain­er gar­den­ing. As long as the con­tain­er has depth and drainage, it can be uti­lized. Also con­sid­er the need for a fence. There’s noth­ing so dis­heart­en­ing and de-moti­vat­ing – to chil­dren and adults alike – than to have a gar­den eat­en up by varmints.

Set up a sched­ule for weed­ing and water­ing. Mark off com­ple­tion on a chart or use stick­ers. Get your chil­dren their own set of tools and gloves to increase their sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty. Final­ly, iden­ti­fy some clothes that will be con­sid­ered their gar­den­ing clothes” or let them apply their cre­ativ­i­ty to t‑shirts with fab­ric markers.

Keep gar­den out­ings short and sweet. Ini­tial­ly, 15 – 20 min­utes may be enough to fill most children’s atten­tion span. Let them take pho­tos or draw­ings of their gar­den through­out the sum­mer to cre­ate a jour­nal. They can share their garden’s progress with fam­i­ly and friends. Chil­dren can gain a sense of accom­plish­ment by car­ing for some­thing over time.

When items are har­vest­ed, give them a place of hon­or at your table. Chil­dren are cer­tain­ly more apt to try a veg­etable that they have tend­ed for the sea­son. While cook­ing may not be cur­rent­ly in your child’s reper­toire, sim­ple recipes that you work on togeth­er will encour­age healthy eat­ing. If you have too much to use, chil­dren can learn com­pas­sion by giv­ing sur­plus food to a needy fam­i­ly or food pantry.

You’ll both cher­ish pulling those first car­rots from the ground, or shelling peas, or brush­ing aside the dirt to reveal a boun­ty of pota­toes. The seeds of knowl­edge you plant with your chil­dren now will endure into their adulthood.

Summer 2020

Volume 38 , Number 2

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