Kathy at Cold Climate Gardening wrote a wonderful post recently in which she reviewed three gardening books for kids. Her selections were wonderful—I ended up ordering one of them right away–but what really struck me was that we have the same philosophy of children and gardening. Kathy says:
“I prefer to regard children as apprentice gardeners, gradually acquiring more skills as the years go by, working their way up (at their own pace and interest level) to journeyman and eventually master gardener. As much as possible, I like to let them choose their own projects, plan the execution of them, and solve their own problems.”
Exactly. My kids do plenty in my garden, from weeding, to watering, to planting their own seeds, yet these are things they’ve decided to do on their own. Much of it is modeling, of course—at this young age (my “garden girls” are 3 and 4) they want to do what mom and dad do. Weeding seems fascinating; planting small seeds that sprout into pumpkin vines is a magic unparalleled. I have made a point of never saying the words “garden chores” or “working in the garden,” because I want them to see gardening the way I see it–fun, relaxing, and full of surprises. Emily, my oldest, understands already that that gardener gets to experience Christmas morning almost every day of the year: a plant blooms here, a tiny tomato appears there, and that weird-looking kale stuff is actually pretty tasty.
The most fun we’ve had together (besides eating the fruits of our labor) has been planning the girls’ gardens. We started doing this last winter. Each girl gets a little plot of their own. Last year, it was large container gardens, but this year they’ll probably each get a small bed to garden in. We looked through catalogs and garden books together, and talked about what kind of veggies they liked best and what color flowers they wanted. They ended up growing cherry tomatoes, yellow pear tomatoes, ‘Empress of India’ nasturtiums, and ‘Yellow Gem’ marigolds. They planted the seeds, monitored growth, watered, and transplanted. And they got to harvest as well.
What I liked about this project was that not only was is a sustained activity that kept their attention for 6+ months, but it also taught them a lot about how plants grow, what they need, and how to keep them healthy. They watched the bees fluttering among the marigolds, and noticed that the nasturtium was pretty unhappy once it got hot, yet started growing again in the fall.
More than anything, it gave them ownership of a small plot of land (even if it was in a pot) and they were responsible for that piece of Earth. The plants, the soil, and the insects became theirs, and they made sure they took care of them. I think, maybe, that’s the best lesson we can hope to teach our children.