Most people now days would agree with the general idea that gardening is good for children of all ages. But I wonder if most would agree that gardening is necessary for children. I really believe it is necessary if you want a well rounded child that has a foundational understanding of our world. I also believe that it is necessary for every job or life event that will be experienced once they leave the nest. And by the way that’s an expression borrowed from observation of our natural world…just saying. I’ll start with some of the ways I use gardening in our homeschooling experience and then try to get into some of the reasons why.
First we have a garden! Now that may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. You can simply start with a 4×4 raised bed with a few seeds thrown in and watered regularly. You can read more about the specifics of setting up a raised be garden here. Whatever the size the idea is to get your children outside among growing things. I’ve had the privilege of working with children other than my own in school gardens and seen first hand how being a part of the growing process changes how the kids feel about vegetables. If they grew it they will probably eat it…raw!! Its that kinesthetic experience, the working with their own hands that excites them and keeps them engaged. As my children have grown with our gardens I’ve seen their interests shift. Currently my newly 4yr old loves to help with the harvest. My 6yr old loves saving seeds and continues to enjoy planting. When they were very young they loved digging in the dirt and munching of whatever greens their chubby hands could grab.
This spring we built a bamboo teepee and planted beans and native coral honeysuckle around it. It was the sole job of my 3yr old to plant and make sure it was watered as the seedlings grew. Now as fall approaches she loves to play around the teepee with glee and she sees how well her plants are doing. She takes great ownership and pride in it because she was given the responsibility and trust to take care of it. This instills confidence in little ones and encourages them to dream. I can’t keep track of how many ideas come to us from the children about building this or that. I only wish we could complete each brilliant and creative idea they had but count it as a win that they have the mind and vision to have the ideas in the first place.
Gardening teaches patience, independence and builds the imagination. Oh the wonder it births as the single seed is pushed into the soft earth as sprinkles of water remind it to grow each morning, eyes eagerly searching for the first burst of green push through the soil into shared air. And wonder my friends is just what we want for our young minds. Every part of the growing process invokes wonder. The first true leaves, the winding and growing plant, the flowers and fruit, even the dying and giving of seed as its children is all magical. We love thumbing through seed catalogs and picking out strange and unusual seeds to grow. This alone I feel does great steps in instilling a great independence and imagination in us all. To know you don’t have to settle for nearly white tomatoes, or tasteless squash found at the grocery store, but to know you can have purple tomatoes, spiraling squash, rainbow corn and every herb known to man growing steps from your kitchen is freeing at its purest. After all what else do we do but breath more than the three or more times of eating each day.
Gardening teaches politics and responsibility. A few years ago when we discussed pollination with my 4yr old, my chalkboard diagram of the sexual parts of a plant made immediate sense. She had seen the hibiscus up close for years as she loved to pick and wear them pushed over her ear. She recognized the dramatic stigma instantly. She had years under her belt of marveling as bees disappeared deep into the trumpet of a great white flower and ate. She had watched butterflies be hatched, scoot around and munch leaves as caterpillars and unzip into their chrysalis only to be reborn into butterflies again and again in our garden. She knew pollination before she had a word for it. Colony collapse disorder, GMO foods, the dangers of ignorant eating. All these are already beginning to have a foundation in which to inform opinions on for the young gardener.
Gardening teaches shapes and early concepts. For the very young, the every changing garden is a wonderful place to begin to discover to repetitive but never dull every day shapes of our lives. The round dahlia and zinnias next to the square boxes they grown in. Counting seeds 1,2,3 as they fall into the straight lined row. The skipping of a rock 1,2,3 across a pond. If only our creative mind remains open and active we can find in nature all the tools for the young child. Here are some great resources from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. http://www.wildflower.org/learn/teacher-resources
I will leave you with a quote from the great John Muir one of our histories greatest naturalist. “Climb the mountain’s and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”