May 27, 2020
Gardening is one of life's simple pleasures and teaches us lessons that will last a lifetime. This summer why not initiate your child to this wonderful family activity and reap the rewards.
Healthy habits with lifetime benefits
The first and most important contribution a garden will provide are the crops: delicious fresh vegetables for meals and snacks. And studies show that if children contribute to the growth of vegetables, they are more likely to eat them!
Think of a vegetable plot in your backyard as a source of ready-to-eat healthy snacks while the kids are at play. A lot of these veggies won't make it to the kitchen, and that's great! To encourage this habit, plant veggies that are easy to pick and that kids usually love: cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, sugar snap peas and sweet carrots. As a bonus, all these vegetables are easy to grow and will survive a little mistreatment from younger children.
Another benefit is all the physical activity needed to care for the garden. Pushing a wheelbarrow and getting on their hands and knees to do some weeding are activities that will wear your kids out, and often contribute to a good night's sleep (after a hard day's work).
Learning while gaining skills
A garden is also a great way to introduce your child to basic environmental science and teach them about the food cycle.
Children (even very young ones) can be taught to look for changes in their plants to understand their needs (e.g., wilting leaves mean the plant needs water). Let them work with you in the beginning while they acquire the knowledge and skills needed, you'll soon discover your children are quite capable without your help.
If you have older kids, teach them how to trim the plants properly or look for signs of disease. You can even take this to the next level and turn your garden into a science project to make pest control a fun chore. Capture the insects found in your garden, determine whether they are invasive species or predators, and list the effects they have on plants. Then, try some organic (home-made) pesticides.
Sense of responsibility
It's important to involve your children in the day-to-day chores of the garden so they develop a sense of responsibility toward their vegetable patch.
There are a number of easy chores your children can take care of, such planting, weeding, pest management, removing dead leaves, and of course harvesting! You may notice that younger children are experts when it comes to watering...make sure to consider drainage (slightly sloping areas help).
These different chores may seem simple but they will teach your children about the consequences of their care or lack of care for their plants, and thus to respect and nurture the earth.
A few extra tips:
- Make sure you're not on a schedule. Gardening with children takes time and patience. First-time gardeners may try to dig up the seeds, stomp on the garden, use it as a sandbox, rip out sprouts instead of weeds, and drown your plants. A good tip is to have a separate kids garden, one that’s theirs to experiment with. This will also help them develop a sense of ownership.
- Plant your garden near your children's play area. Doing so will make the fresh vegetables accessible and tempting snacks while your kids are on the go.
- Get your kids their own gardening tools, which are smaller and usually quite colourful. Your kids will be able to identify these tools as theirs, and take on the responsibility of cleaning these and putting them away (another lesson in caring for one's belongings).
- The harvesting of certain vegetables can be turned into a fun game for your little ones. Potatoes are a perfect example, let your children get dirty and dig up buried treasure!
There are countless great reasons to plant a garden. But remember that the most important thing is that you're spending quality time as a family and having fun.