“Where do cereal and salad grow” you ask “On the supermarket shelf” they reply….surprised? So are we!
Children, for the past few decades, especially in cities, have rarely seen food in its natural environment, like a cob of corn on the stalk or a chicken running around, or a cow being milked. The only insects they have seen are on television or in books and the only orange or apple tree they have seen is on a juice carton. Kids who grow up in today’s artificial worlds could be out of touch with a natural environment, have a limited perspective of the reality and, possibly, have more allergies and illnesses.
Interesting thought at the same time, there is a lot of emphasis in schools on protecting the environment, going green, and caring for nature.
How do you bridge this gap? How do you make sure ideals don’t remain abstract concepts on paper, and your kids get a real feel for what nature is, how it works, and what it can teach them?
Let Nature Teach
The best way is to let them get their hands dirty, grow something and learn all about it in your very own garden. Gardening as a hobby is an ideal and holistic thing that helps children learn about biology in real time, develop a love for the environment, care for nature and feel the indescribable joy of seeing something grow out of nothing. In addition, gardening provides valuable life lessons.
A garden will let nature be a teacher to your child. It will let them form a close relationship with the earth and marvel at how nature works. How the nature gives birth to the food they eat and flowers they love.
Caring about and nurturing living plants teaches responsibility to a child. Waiting for a seed to sprout or a flower to turn into a fruit brings excitement, but also teaches a lot of patience. Seeing a plant wither at the end of a season exposes them to the concept of about loss and death.
The process of gardening also teaches natural principles of life, like:
- How essential water is for life.
- Importance of sunlight.
- Essential nutrients for plant.
- Concepts like photosynthesis and pollination.
Children in the garden
Children of different ages can do different things in the garden, and at all ages, mucking about in a garden is a fun activity in itself for any age!
A gardening project is very engaging and lasts many weeks. Gardening includes a wide variety of tasks like choosing what to plant, making beds, planting seeds or seedlings, mulching, watering, tending, waiting and watching, and then harvesting some fresh food.
Toddler and pre-school kids can just enjoy getting dirty and digging. Don’t worry too much about germs. Many of us grew up like this and have survived! Slightly older kids can water the plants and harvest. Pre-teens can use tools, dig and plant, lay out beds, prune and fertilize.
There is many a fun, learning moment when a child is tending a garden for the first time. When planning the garden, teach them about seasons and help them count the days to go on a calendar. When planting, teach them about the tools used in the entire cycle, and about preparing the soil. Encourage them to read instructions and labels on the seed packets and figure out when the seeds will sprout and how to care for them. Once the plants grow, teach them about weeds and weeding. Encourage them to inspect the insect and bird life a garden attracts. These are amazing lessons in biology.
Do’s and Don’ts
Dedicate an area of the family garden for the kids and give them a bed to themselves, with a source of water close by. In the case of apartments, you can set up containers. Let them plan it, but don’t regulate it too much.
Grow plants that are fun; flowers like sunflowers, vegetables like pumpkins which associated with fairy tales, plants that can attract bees and hummingbirds. Butterflies are an added bonus. Plant vegetables that they normally see in a store and let them compare their harvest with what they buy. Once kids learn where their food comes from, it changes their relationship with what they eat.
Choose some plants that are easy to grow and provide quick results, say radish. You could do a salad theme garden which grows a combination like tomato, cucumber and lettuce. Make it a good mix, encourage them to choose plants that are good to smell: like mint, good to taste: like herbs & colorful, like sunflowers.
Keep it organic, chemical sprays and pesticides to be avoided… But that’s obvious with younger children and need to be used under supervision with older ones.
Harvesting the goodies
The patience pays off and the wait ends as the fruit ripens and the flowers bloom. The kids will enjoy the smells, sights and tastes of the exciting harvest that they have created. Take the harvest to the dinner table and encourage them to eat healthy greens.
Encourage the kids to share the bounty of the harvest and learn the joy of giving. You could send the extra flowers to a hospital, or the surplus vegetables to a community center. You could also make a scrapbook of dried leaves, flowers and seeds as a sweet memoir of your gardening season.
If you have created such a wonderful experience in your garden, share with us the fun times you had and what your children learned in the garden.