Along with vegetables and flowers, raise a few children in your garden. Don’t keep all that gardening pleasure to yourself. Share it with the children in your life. Children enjoy learning new things, they delight in seeing things grow, and they love to play in the dirt. Gardening can benefit them in so many ways.
But they’ll get dirty! Of course they will, and it will be good for them. Dr. Mary Ruebush, immunologist and author of Why Dirt is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends, counts letting kids play in the dirt as the start of building their immune systems.
“Let your child be a child,” she says. “Dirt is good. If your child isn’t coming in dirty every day, they’re not doing their job. They’re not building their immunological army. So it’s terribly important.” (CBS News, 2009).
Eating Tour and Other Garden Activities
Children are enthralled with everyday miracles. Teach them to plant radish or bean seeds and to watch for the first green leaves to poke through the soil. Give them a ruler and notepad and they’ll be in the garden every day measuring how tall their plants are growing.
Take them on an eating tour of the garden picking fresh vegetables and edible flowers to munch along the way. Ask them to describe what each thing tastes like. Try combinations of edibles as you tour the garden: beans wrapped in basil leaves, or cherry tomatoes tucked into okra flowers. The act of picking their meal right off the plants causes children to try new foods that wouldn’t stand a chance on their plate.
Working in the garden employs both large and small muscle groups. Learning to garden will help the children you love develop physically. Being out in the sun and air will stimulate their brains and increase their vitamin D levels to bring them greater health. The various colors and textures in the garden provide sensory stimulation.
Teach children which plants are weeds and which plants you are growing intentionally. Show them how to use small weeding tools so they can help you keep the garden tidy. Give them real tasks and encourage them to think of the garden as their project as well as yours.
Those first exciting moments when a seed a child plants produces its first fruit will give them a lifetime of memories. Show them how to harvest their vegetables and then teach them how to make simple dishes to serve for dinner. If the children growing in your garden don’t live with you, send easy recipes home with them so that they can share their harvest with their families.
If you have several children growing in your garden consider letting them put on a harvest party. Have them invite friends and family. Each child can display the vegetables they’ve grown, serve up a dish showcasing one of their vegetables, and lead tours through the garden patch.
We’re always just one generation away from not knowing where our food comes from. Do your part to ensure that another generation of gardeners is excited about what they grow and what they eat.
Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth Gardener and Grit and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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