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.
Volume 38 , Number 2