I did not have a chance to taste the first broccoli I ever grew because my then 2-year-old ate it straight off the plant. The first time I grew peas, I could not figure out what was going wrong. One day there would be pea pods growing on the vines and then next day they would all be gone. Were birds getting to them? Later, I found a stash of empty pea shells on top of my sons’ playscape. It wasn’t birds, it was little boys.
Learning to Love Their Vegetables
Gardening with kids can try your patience, but the benefits include potentially not having to nag your kids to eat their vegetables. My husband, yes, I must nag him, but my kids will eat the serving of green beans first before starting on their pizza.
As an elementary teacher at Community Montessori School, I incorporate gardening into our classroom work. When a child is involved in growing something, he or she is much more willing to eat it. I know this to be true, because I have eager students asking me almost daily if we can make kale chips.
Studies have shown that the ability to delay gratification is critical for success. There is no way to hurry gardening, so children must be patient. If they pull up the carrot too soon, they get a tiny carrot. Waiting literally means bigger rewards.
How to Garden With Kids
Children like to go fast, and slowing them down is a struggle. They might enthusiastically pour an entire seed packet into one hole. Ask me how I know this.
I have children use a ruler when planting seeds and measure 3-inches (or whatever the distance between seeds it says on the seed packet) and stick a craft stick into the ground. Then, they measure another 3-inches and stick another craft stick in the ground.
We do this until we have marked where all the seeds are going to go. Then, the kids can dig a hole where a craft stick is, plant a seed, and remove the craft stick to indicate that that space has been planted. This prevents entire seed packets being poured into one hole.
If you do not know where to start, containers are easy for kids. Get a few pots and fill them with potting mix to increase your odds of a successful harvest.
Another great opportunity to garden with kids is at a community garden. Just being in a garden, even if the child has little interest in the act of gardening, can help develop a reverence for what goes into growing food.
At Adelphi Acre Community Garden, we have an entire Children’s Garden bed available to kids for digging, playing, planting, and harvesting. There is a small fairy garden and a big “wishing teepee” that the children can write a wish on a scrap of fabric and tie to the teepee.
Simply exposing kids to a garden is meaningful. However, you may have to guard your homegrown vegetables from pests. In my case, the biggest pests eating my produce are my sons. However, that is a pest not only can I live with, it’s a pretty awesome pest to have.
To find out about community gardens in our area visit http://www.austintexas.gov/department/sustainable-urban-agriculture and https://communitygardensaustin.wordpress.com/gardens/
To learn more about Community Montessori School visit http://community-montessori.org/
By Gina Polly Applegate, Education Director at Adelphi Acre Community Garden and Upper Elementary Guide at Community Montessori School