|Antonio M. Rosario|
Gardening is a great learning exercise for children of all ages; it teaches them how things grow, where the food we eat comes from and can help get picky eaters to try new foods. Besides teaching valuable lessons about food, it can also teach a variety of useful life skills, such as; how to be patient(it takes time for plants to grow), dependability (plants need you to be there and care for them every day), responsibility (to take the initiative), and also places respect for environment in your child's hands. Whether you are able to grow 1 plant or 100, it's a worthwhile summer activity that is bound to teach your children many valuable life skills.
If you don't have much space, or live in an apartment building where you cant plant in the ground, find a plant or two that you can grow in a pot! There are also many "co-op" gardens, where you can rent a space in a shared garden or pay to receive a portion of their crops. Many of these ask or require participants to help tend the plants and/or maintain the garden. For those with less time, this may be the best option.
Tips for "growing" a successful gardener in your child:
1. Start small. If this is your (or your child's) first time gardening, don't overdo it. Many people make the mistake of trying to work with too many plants at once or learning too much at once. With new gardeners, especially children, it is important to not let anyone get overwhelmed. Chances are, if you let that happen, a lot of your plants will suffer due to your frustration.
2. Don't pressure. Encourage your children, but don't push them to enjoy it. Last year, it took three different times before our seeds were actually in their pods. The first time, she got distracted, so I put it all away, the second time, she got more interested in making signs for the plants, so I embraced it as an craft opportunity, and the third time, she sat with me for over an hour and planted every little seed herself. By letting it be her decision, she came to be interested in the plants by herself, and then devoted all of her attention to it.
3. Set a Routine. Plants need attention. Some days they need more than others, but you should never go a day without checking on your plants. Since children and plants both thrive on attention and routine, the two will go together easily. I always like checking on the plants right after breakfast, and then again shortly before dinner. If I make this a habit, that every day at these times we go check on the plants, it fosters a sense of responsibility and normalcy to what we are doing.
4. Let them explore. There's many ways that you could do this, for one example, you could let your child have one plant that is all their own. You let the child do all of the work nurturing it and helping it grow. (You can of course provide suggestions, ie. Your plant is looking a little sad today... do you think it needs something?) This develops a sense of pride when their plant does well, as well as the consequences if it doesn't. (of course, if you aren't the type to let a plant die, like myself, there's nothing saying you can't water it on the side....) For a second example, you can let your child take the lead in your garden exploration. Let them go ahead and look for new fruits and vegetables, find worms, bugs, weeds, etc. You could take it a step further and make a chart before you go out with things to count, like Flowers on the Rose Bush, or Weeds we pulled, etc and let your child mark when they find this item!
5. Show and Tell. Let your child be proud of the things that they have grown. Encourage them to help prepare it in the family meal, draw/take pictures of the garden, and talk about it. Also encourage your child to take part in the gardening process from start to finish. Let them help pick out seeds and pots and dirt and keep it up all through the summer!
I bet if you follow these simple tips that you will soon have a master gardener helping you and excited about all the new, fresh things they've discovered!