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Gardening with children

May 6, 2009

Are you looking for healthy recreational activities that you can share and enjoy with your children? How about introducing them to the joys of gardening? Gardening with your children can be a great experience. It's an opportunity to share some quality time together outdoors and have lots of fun.

Gardening teaches children to better appreciate nature and to respect their environment. You'll be arousing their interest in what could prove to be a lifelong hobby and an important life skill that is often overlooked in standard school curriculums. Gardening encourages children to explore the outdoors and develop a connection with the natural world, promotes creativity and self-discipline, introduces children to what it means to be self-sufficient, promotes making good food choices and allows them to personally observe the cycle of life.

Before you get started, consider buying them good, quality, inexpensive, kid-sized gloves, shovels, rakes, watering pails, etc., and taking the time to show them how to properly use and care for their own tools. Children love having things of their own. And you'll be cultivating greater independence, teaching responsibility and encouraging your children to take pride in their work.

When working in the garden, it's important that you choose activities, not tasks, for them to do. If they don't feel that they are being made to work, children will almost certainly learn to love gardening.

The key is to make it fun. For example, let them load, or help you load seedlings, soil, amenities and tools into a wagon (instead of a wheelbarrow). Then, let them cart the wagon around. Small children can be encouraged to pick rocks, place them in the wagon and then give the rocks a ride to the rock pile. Give them a place to dig. Most kids love to dig. And they are usually more than willing to run errands. Ask them what they would like to do. And let them take breaks when they want to play.

Children also love to imitate. It's how they learn. You can use that to your advantage. Let them watch what you do. Teach them to use their senses; to touch, smell, and, if they are not too young, to taste.

Younger children love to plant. But it is often difficult for them to handle fragile plants or tiny seeds. They can, on the other hand, usually manage with tough, vigorous plants and large seeds. Marigolds, sunflowers, snap beans and pumpkins are a few good choices.

On the other hand, children want to see results. They often demand instant gratification. Planting seeds that will germinate quickly and transplants that will soon flower or set fruit will keep them interested, eager and contented.

Consider radishes and leaf lettuces, which germinate quickly and require short growing seasons. Bush beans and snow peas, although they may take a bit longer, are also good choices. Well-developed, early-season cherry tomato and pepper transplants should also be a big hit. When making selections, it's a big plus to choose things that the kids like to eat.

Some children are fascinated with bugs. They seem to especially like worms, ladybugs and caterpillars. You can turn looking for bugs into a fun activity that keeps them occupied for considerable lengths of time. You can even make a game of it, offering a prize to whoever finds the biggest worm or the ladybug with the most spots, for example.

You may choose to let your child or children tend a garden of their own. If you do, start small. A 4-inch-by-4-inch plot is often plenty. It's best if children can reach everything that they are growing without having to actually walk in the garden. You can even place a small sign along the edge that says "Johnny's Garden" or one that says "Jenny's Beans" at the end of a row. A few plants may not seem like a lot to you, but to a toddler or young child, small groupings of several varieties of plants can be perceived as a significantly large garden.

Teach your children how to compost. Encourage them to toss kitchen scraps and yard waste onto the compost pile. Let them help you turn it. As I said earlier, kids love to dig. And what better place to dig than in the compost? I can't think of a healthier way to teach children about recycling and reducing the amount of garbage that we send to landfills than introducing them to the value of compost.

Last, but certainly not least, look in the children's section of your library for storybooks about gardening, gardeners, gardens and plants. Then, when it comes time to harvest, sit down with your children and share a few tasty, fresh-picked, sliced garden vegetables and a fun book.

Happy gardening!



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