My family has a whole grab-bag of “group involvement” activities. They run the gamut from the pre-planned to free-for-alls…but each one is not only family time and plenty of attention, but is a learning experience.
Gardening is among my very favorites (as you may have guessed!). Actually, I was surprised by how intrigued my oldest was as he toddled behind me in the garden, picking “berries” (immature tomatoes, actually) and then guiltily telling me, “Din’t do it. Din’t pick the berry” while hiding the little green sphere behind his back.
He just couldn’t resist the call of the garden. And neither can I.
Watching the process of growth from a miniscule seed to the dinner table is amazing for people of all ages. If you’d like to encourage your children to get going and get gardening, try the following:
Plant vegetables and fruits that your children love. They’ll be far more interested in watching and tending the growth of something they know will eventually wind up on their plate.
Start with easy and fast-growing vegetables. Tomatoes were always our stand-by when each child was very young, as many varieties are hardy and produce yields early. Other easy growers are lettuce, which can be picked leaf-by-leaf during the growing process once they’re established; beans, which overall tend to be prolific; spinach; onions (which can be picked early as scallions) and any number of kitchen herbs.
Let your child decorate “her” garden. Have her paint popsicle sticks in bright colors. Allow to dry, then let her write the name of each veggie in glitter glue stick by stick. Help her “plant” the sticks in the garden so she knows what to watch for as growth begins. She may also enjoy painting or gluing fanciful rhinestones on garden rocks or even making a “fairy house” at the trunk of a nearby tree to watch over the garden.
Give your child her very own set of garden tools. These needn’t be pricey or fancy; we small-83026_640bought my son’s first set of garden tools at our local dollar store. We wrote his name on the handle of each in permanent marker in his favorite color, purple. He absolutely loves using his own tools in the garden.
If your child has a class or school garden, get involved! I have been the “garden parent” at my two sons’ elementary school for years. They absolutely love when Mom comes in, showing me off to the entire class and getting very involved as we get down on our knees and dig or water.
Let your child water the garden, under your supervision. For some reason, children seem to absolutely love watering a garden. It seems iconic to the process, somehow (and obviously, it’s an essential).
Have a Harvest Day! As each “crop” comes to maturity, make a party of it. Have your child invite a friend or two over. Give each an inexpensive, decorated basket (I buy mine at dollar and discount stores and poke a few faux flowers into each rim) and have the children collect their growing goodies. You can even have a “cooking party” where your child and her friends create a delicious dish out of the “harvest.”
Be ready to answer questions – a lot of them. From beneficial bugs to disturbing leaf rot, my children have wanted to know about EVERY step of the process. Have patience and encourage all of your child’s questions
Try not to overreact if your child sneaks out and picks fruits or vegetables too early. It is very hard for young children to resist picking growing plants. Speak to your child about how much time the vegetable actually needs on the vine or stem, then have her write on her own calendar which week (or several weeks) she should be able to harvest mature veggies. The countdown will make things easier and help her to learn patience. Remember, you’re creating memories – for your child AND for you. Help her to see the magic and amazing properties of nature at work as it takes a seed to something edible and delicious, or pretty enough for display on your dining room table. You’ll love the experience, and so will she.
Studies have shown that gardening gives a lot of benefits to mental health. A study in the Netherlands found out that 30 minutes of gardening relieves stress more effectively than reading for 30 minutes.
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