The hum of bees, the songs of courting birds and the arrival mild sunny days brings out spring fever in most of us. Daydreams of homegrown tomatoes and fresh basil distract gardeners from the daily grind as they stare out the window.
If you aren’t a gardener already, maybe you should be, because there are many advantages to bringing your kids outside and into a vegetable garden.
Why Should My Kids Garden?
- Gardeners eat more vegetables. The vegetables they eat are fresher and more nutritious than their grocery store counterparts, and they taste better. What’s more, this dietary improvement is shown across all age groups and levels of gardening experience. When children have expended effort growing something edible, they are often more willing to try it since it is no longer a stranger to their eyes.
- Gardening just a few minutes a day has been shown to reduce stress. It can also increase the production of the “happy” hormone serotonin. Serotonin converts to melatonin (the “sleepy” hormone) in the body, meaning you and your kids will fall asleep faster and sleep better.
- Dirt is good for kids. There is a growing body of evidence that the increasing rates of allergies and autoimmune disorders can be traced to decreased exposure to microbial species’ in children. Being outdoors and handling soil is a safe way to increase this exposure without compromising hygiene.
- Growing and nurturing plants teaches science in a practical way. From the sensory experience of herbs and vegetables at a young age to later lessons, kids that garden can learn about seed germination, scientific observation, weather patterns, plant and animal interactions, botany and more. Even the act of setting up garden rows, beds and boundaries and plant spacing can be used to teach math. With an improved understanding of how it all works together, children can develop a respect for nature, not fear.
- Build community skills with your children. From purchasing transplants at the farmer’s market to sharing seeds to giving away extra produce, growing food brings people together face to face in a way that a sterile transaction at the grocery store does not. As kids grow older, they can begin to understand where food really comes from – that the act of growing, harvesting and shipping food is one that requires the labor of many farmers and workers, and that food itself is a valuable commodity.
- Delayed gratification. Gardening is the opposite of our hyper-connected world full of glowing screens in various sizes. There are no instant results in gardening: patience, persistence and time are the only ways to achieve the goal of a tasty harvest.
Gardening Through the Ages
Gardening activities can be adapted to all ages and abilities. For the youngest children, activities should be limited to helping out, sensory experiences and simple harvesting. Fresh tasty treats like sugar snap peas, carrots, cherry tomatoes, strawberries and sweet peppers can be the gateway produce to better eating habits. Focus on fun and rewards at this age, not maximum production. A few containers or a single raised bed may be the ideal space.
As children get older, they can take on more decisions and responsibilities. Extend the garden season into spring and fall, and expand to allow more crops and harvests large enough for dishes at family meals. Add perennial herbs and flowers just for fun and beauty, especially if you have a budding chef that wants to create meals and inviting table settings. Negotiate among the family what gets planted, how much of it and where it goes.
Older children can research topics, develop care schedules, and resolve plant selection issues. If the child is ready and willing, allow them a section of the garden (or even the whole garden) that is solely their responsibility.
Somewhere in an old shoebox is a picture of me as a toddler stuffing dirt into my socks. Later I moved on to helping in the family garden where we grew much of our own fruits and vegetables. Although gardening on that scale seemed like a lot of work, I distinctly recall the feeling of satisfaction at seeing people eat food that I helped grow. That, perhaps, is the best reason children should be involved in gardening. Through diligence and perseverance, they can learn the satisfaction of a job accomplished in a tangible – and very edible – way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nicole Castle provides on-site consultation services throughout the north Alabama region, covering topics related to edible landscape and garden planning, coaching, troubleshooting, maintenance and other aspects of home food production. As part of her efforts to give back to the community and foster healthy food systems, she donates hundreds of pounds of extra produce annually to the CASA Garden (Care Assurance System for the Aging and Homebound, of Madison County), volunteers with the Huntsville City Green Team as a gardening consultant, and serves on the North Alabama Food Policy Council. She blogs about regional gardening issues at RecessionGardening.com
As a hyper-local website focused on all aspects of parenting in and around Huntsville, AL, and the Tennessee Valley, Rocket City Mom occasionally asks local parents to submit their stories for publication. This is part of our continual effort to represent varied viewpoints and experiences on our site. However, these articles should not be seen as necessarily expressing the views of Rocket City Mom Media Group, LLC.