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Get it Growing: Gardening with children
By Jeanette Stehr-Green
Gardening offers many benefits to the gardener. If you’d like your kids to grow up gardening and learning how to grow their own food, here are some suggestions to get you started.
Whether you use raised beds, containers or in-ground plots, be sure to give your child his or her own separate space. They will be more likely to take ownership if the plot is “theirs.”
Keep efforts small. Consider the child’s age when planning the garden and gardening activities.
Toddlers enjoy exploring. Center the experience on their senses. Choose textured plants that they can feel, fragrant herbs they can smell and taste and brightly colored flowers that can be picked and enjoyed indoors.
Preschool-aged children enjoy digging in the dirt and planting seeds. Begin with a yardstick-sized plot and a few varieties of seeds or plants. (Beware: Seeds can pose a choking hazard for younger children.)
With older children, larger-sized gardens with a greater variety of plants are possible. School-aged children should be involved in the design process. Build on your child’s interests. Make suggestions, but let your child decide what kind of garden he or she wants.
If children are involved in planting the garden, when possible, start from seeds. The care given to sprouting seeds and young seedlings is a valuable part of the gardening experience.
Plants with easy-to-handle large seeds, seeds that grow quickly and plants that have kid appeal (because of their size, shape or color or fun factor during harvest) are good selections. Favorites among kids are sunflowers, radishes, snow and sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and pumpkins.
Children should have their own garden tools. Plastic “toy tools” break easily and frustrate the user. Choose good-quality tools that fit the young gardener’s hands. Less expensive alternatives include old, heavy kitchen spoons for digging and measuring cups for scoops.
Keep your garden safe. Applying herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers is a job for adults. Store garden chemicals out of the reach of children at all times. Keep sharp or motorized tools out of their way and keep a close watch on what they put into their mouths!
Focus on activities children love (digging, watering, planting and picking). Spend no more than 5 or 10 minutes at a time on tasks such as weeding.
Because attention spans are short, include activities other than gardening. Emphasize fun and creativity with kid-created garden art, games, journaling, cooking and more!
Leave behind adult ideas about gardening. Straight rows of tomatoes and beans might be your idea of the perfect garden, but far from what a child finds inviting.
When gardening with children, look for the “teachable moment.” Explore and learn together about the wonders they find. Show off their work to friends and family. The attention given to their gardening effort is the best motivator for them to continue.
Where possible, engage children through the entire process, from seed to table. Be sure they participate in the harvesting and preparation of their crop, no matter how modest the offering. Children will learn that gardening can be fun, but far more than idle play; they are contributing to the family well-being.
Jeanette Stehr-Green is a Washington State University-certified, Clallam County Master Gardener.
Benefits of gardening with children
By working in a garden, a child can experience the satisfaction that comes from caring for something over time, while observing the cycle of life. Gardening offers children exercise, fresh air and sunshine, and access to healthy food, all of which can help prevent or delay the onset of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
In addition, children who garden (and grow their own food) are more likely to:
• Eat fruits and vegetables
• Ask for fruits and vegetables
• Try new fruits and vegetables
• Show higher levels of knowledge about nutrition
• Enjoy learning and show improved attitudes toward education.
• Have a positive bonding experience with their parents
• Appreciate nature and develop pro-environmental attitudes and environmental stewardship
• Continue gardening and healthy eating as they age.