The craft of food gardening that has been passed from generation to generation has been lost in the last few generations as folks have become more reliant on mass produced food. A few generations ago there were edibles planted in almost every yard and most children would know how food was grown, where it came from, and would most likely have been participants in its production.
The opportunity to garden is a precious gift that we can give children. It will provide hours of unplugged healthy activity. It will teach awareness and appreciation for the finer details of our complex world. Furthermore, it will give them a sense of responsibility and accomplishment as they find themselves successful in the garden. Here are some tips for creating a new generation of gardeners that would have made our great grandparents proud!
For very young children I suggest to keep it playful. My children started to learn to garden as soon as they could follow me around the yard. Their attention span at that age was very short and I never forced them to be part of any gardening activities. Planting seeds, watering, or helping with harvesting are very palpable tasks that young children enjoy being a part of, and they impart a sense of accomplishment. Involving children can lead to less than perfect results but the trade-off in time spent together is worth it. I also suggest providing young children with a sandbox in the garden so that they can “cultivate their own plot.”
I believe the key to creating life time gardeners is to set children up for success. Children approach tasks with more enthusiasm and optimism than most adults I know, and the last thing we want is for that enthusiasm to be killed by lack of success. As my children became older I gave them a space of their own to garden, but I made sure it was small enough to make it manageable for their age. I guided a great deal of the work while still allowing their creativity to take root.
Another strategy for ensuring success is to narrow down their crop choices to just a few varieties to make their garden easier to care for. Help them select crops that they are excited about; crops like spinach, while quite easy to grow, may seem like a poor reward to a child that will barely tolerate spinach on her plate!
By recommending crops that are popular food items with children, such as peas, corn or pumpkins, the level of motivation at first, and pride of accomplishment at the end, will be all the greater.
Finally, I recommend giving your child a sense of ownership by separating their garden plots to create boundaries. Used shipping pallets are great for this because they can be painted and decorated and set up on end to create an informal fence. Another way to do this may be to start out with a couple raised beds that could be personalized with handmade signs or other ornaments.
By instilling the love of gardening in your child you will be leaving them with a true legacy in a hobby that not only nurtures the mind, but also feeds the body.
~ Jack Oostenbrink, gardener, educator and plantsman.
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