A LETTER TO PARENTS ON GARDENING
All knowledge is rooted in wonder, and what better place to cultivate wonder than in our own gardens?
“With little people, they’re a lot closer to the ground; they have an intimate relationship with the earth. Anything we can do to bring that non-descript terra firma to life is good”
“Children can discover the world in the microcosm of a garden” but they need to be accompanied on their explorations by a patient and enthusiastic grown-up, an “Earth-Mentor” who will enjoy the entire process of learning, planning, and gardening together.
WHAT WE DO AND WHY
Some of the most unique experiences I like to offer the children at Creative Play Preschool come from lessons learned in our garden. While planting seeds and watching plants grow, children learn the value of patience, respect, and responsibility. The children watch birds and insects come and go through the rows of green and witness a science lesson first hand. Weather, biology, and chemistry are all evident in a garden. Even more importantly, gardening teaches us all how our actions can both positively and negatively affect our environment.
A garden provides endless opportunities for hands-on environmental learning.
Along with the fun of getting dirty, gardening helps children learn lessons about;
- Patience as they wait for vegetables to grow.
- Responsibility as they see how necessary their care is to the garden and even loss when flowers die at the end of a season.
- They learn about nurturing a life and what it takes to keep something alive.
- Beneficial bugs – They learn about helpful bugs (and other creepy-crawlies) that aerate soil, pollinate crops, and dine on pests.
- They learn to work together and share.
- They learn to greet each gardening experience as an adventure and learn to look for and expect miracles.
When children are gardening at school one of the most important things we teach about gardening is understanding where our food comes from. Young children are fascinated in seeing food when it’s pulled from the ground and they notice the similarities and differences from their own garden vegetables and produce from the grocery store.
At school the children are introduced to a variety of plants “that are great to smell, fun to touch, and are good to eat.
“Gardening helps build a child’s senses”
- How does the soil feel? Is the soil wet or dry? What happens when we add water to the dry soil?
- What do you see in the garden (colors, insects, plants and/or animals)?
- What do you hear in the garden (the buzzing of an insect, the twitter of a bird and/or the rustling of leaves)?
- How does the garden smell? (Do you smell the rain? How does the earth smell? How does that strawberry/basil/mint smell)?
- How does it taste? “MM…GOOD”
WHAT YOU CAN DO AT HOME
If you’re looking for an engaging outdoor activity that allows the whole family to participate, consider a family garden. From selecting your vegetables and flowers, preparing the earth and planting, and finally harvesting, gardening can be a wonderful way to involve children in a healthy hobby you all can enjoy.
If you have decided to plant a garden with your children, you’ll need to make some decisions-most importantly where and what your child will be gardening. The essentials for a children’s garden are clear paths, narrow beds and edible plants. Kids should be able to reach across the beds. They can learn where people go and where plants go.
When gardening with young children it also may be a good idea to set aside a small plot in the garden or flowerbed where your child can experiment with, I personally like to see less regulation in the garden. The way to approach it best is that there’s nothing they can’t handle and get them involved from the very beginning. Let your child have their own spot, if they want to toss 10 seeds in one hole, let them and they will see what happens. Let them learn from the experience.
- If you do not have room for a full-size garden, try growing veggies or herbs in space saving containers. For tips and ideas, go to;aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/container/caontainer.html
- Go to your local nursery or hardware store and have your child pick out seeds to plant in your garden.
- Have your child draw a picture of how and what they want their garden to look like.
- Have your child decorate your garden with painted pet rocks and/or shells.
- Plant a “Butterfly Garden”. Few insects fascinate like the vibrant yet gentle butterfly. Children in particular love these “flying flowers.” While butterflies appear to dance whimsically through the air, they are purposeful creatures. These intriguing insects offer a unique and fun learning experience; parents need only to take advantage of their kids’ natural curiosity and love of the outdoors to plant a beautiful butterfly garden with their children.
- Composting – Show your kids the magic of turning garbage (the organic kind that is) into super-healthy soil food. For detailed tips, go to; journeytoforever.org and click on “composting.”
- Gardening tasks provide plenty of exercise, from digging, to hoeing, to toting water. Inspire your little helpers by turning your garden work into play.
- Challenge your kids to a weeding contest. Play Eye Spy with my little eye I see that is the color “Red” – “LADY LUCK” If a ladybug lands on you, close your eyes and make a wish.
- Plan your child’s birthday and have the theme be gardening. Plant a “Friendship garden” where each child can pick out flowers to plant and instead of giving out grab bags at the end of the party have them take home a potted plant or seed packets to start their very own garden.
Spending time outside also yields a bushel of health benefits, including exposure to fresh air and sunlight (the best source around for vitamin D), as well as all the mental and emotional bonuses that derive from communing with nature. “Studies indicate that children are happier, healthier, smarter and more self-disciplined when they have regular opportunities to be outdoors.
GARDENING MAKES FOR HEALTHY EATING FUN
Even selective eaters find it hard to resist the fun of nibbling something straight off the plant. Tempt them with these pick-and-eat favorites:
*Cherry tomatoes. Who knew getting your vitamin C could so tasty.
*Green beans. The king of crunch. Build tepees out of wood or bamboo stakes. (As tall as you can reach) and let pole beans scramble to the top.
*Strawberries. Try one of the alpine varieties that bloom all season long. They’re kinda cut: smaller than the types you’ll find in the super-market but sweeter.
Most fresh produce offer nutrients, but some vegetables are more high-powered than others. When choosing your crops, pick these favorites, which are both kid-friendly and super-nutritious:
*Carrots. They are high in vitamin A, fiber and carotenoids – powerful antioxidants that boost your immune system
*Tomatoes. One medium tomato delivers a healthy dose of vitamins C and A.
*Bell peppers. Buy them at the store, and you could be bringing home pesticides residue (peppers are No. 3 on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables). Grow them yourself organically and all you’ll be getting is vitamin C and great taste.
Celebrate the earth with your child. Take the time to garden together. Take time to visit your plants everyday and discover with your child that something magical and new is always happening in your garden.
Share with your child the countless miracles that can be found in a garden, and how every seed holds the promise of flower and fruits and all their attendant critters.
*The Little Gardeners Guide – By: Niki Horin
*Roots – Shoots – Buckets and Boots – By: Sharon Lovejoy
*Love Your World-How to take care of the plants, the animals, and the planet – By: Dawn Sirett (DK Publishing)
*Who Lives in the Garden – By: Brimax
*Up, Down, and Around – By: Katherine Ayres
*Grow Flower Grow – By: Lisa Bruce
*Eco Art-(Earth friendly art and craft experiences for 3 to 9 year olds) – By: Laurie Carlson