My memories of gardening are mixed. Long hours crouched over in the hot sun weeding are juxtaposed with evenings making fresh rhubarb jam with my grandmother. A garden is not an easy undertaking. It requires constant attention and dedication, from the beginning of spring until the last harvest of fall. It is for these reasons, however, both the responsibility and the rewards, that gardening is a great undertaking for a family.
There are few things as exciting as watching something you’ve planted as a seed or seedling grow into a towering plant that can be harvested and eaten. Kids can feel a sense of pride in a job well done, and a connection to their food that cannot be gotten any other way. Think of the story of the Little Red Hen, who invested her time planting the wheat, weeding the field, watering the wheat, then harvesting the wheat and baking bread out of the wheat. Her investment in the wheat was such that when her lazy friends wished to enjoy the fruits of her labor, she refused. While sharing is a value that should be emphasized for children, so too is the value of work and investment.
Moreover, gardening provides lessons in the sciences, math, and history, as well as inspiration for the arts. How much space should be between each seedling? How does the process of composting work? What are the different varieties of tomatoes, and why are there so many? What kinds of plants grow in your area, and why? All these questions arise through gardening, and are excellent ones for children to ponder.
The lessons from the garden also extend to nutrition. Why are fruits and vegetables important parts of your diet? What purpose do herbs serve in cooking? Helping your child to understand the complexities of nutrition are important, and if he or she is a part of the growing process the benefits are extensive. Gardening also helps your child stay healthy by getting them active in the outdoors, between weeding, watering, and planting. The following are some ideas for how to get your child involved in gardening.
- Plant a theme garden. Does your child love spaghetti? Try focusing a portion of your garden around ingredients needed for making spaghetti sauce. Plant tomatoes, onions, peppers, basil, oregano, and whatever else you want to go into your sauce!
- Try a container garden! Even without outdoor space, your garden dreams can become a reality. Plant herbs and keep them on the windowsill of your kitchen. Put a tomato plant in a flowerpot and grow it just outside your door. There are plenty of resources for urban gardening, which is an emerging focus.
- Choose your own plants. Take your child to the nursery with you and allow him to pick out plants that spark his interest, and dedicate space in the garden that is just for his plants.
- Make it a family affair. Make gardening a family chore, where everyone helps complete the necessary tasks. To celebrate your accomplishments, host a food from our garden party, and invite family and friends to enjoy food made with the products of your garden.