I’m no licensed child psychologist. My kid-rearing experience stems from a sample size of one young, lanky legged son. Still, I feel confident in proclaiming, after these past seven years of Wisconsin gardening with Liam, that kids will eat anything they have a connection to growing or harvesting themselves. A simple equation: the more we can get kids into the garden, the better we eat and the more our nation’s health improves.
Engaging kids in the garden requires a sprinkle of extra thought toward ways to create a child-friendly growing space. With a dash of creativity, edible education opportunities can grow as quickly as a Midwest zucchini in July. Here are some five easy, bite-sized ideas:
1. Plant Easy Pickings
Plant vegetables that are low-level, easy picking for kids. Sometimes this means eye-level, like sugar snap peas that grow up a trellis or other form of support. Sugar snap peas are easy for kids to grasp and pull off. Because of their size, they can quickly harvest a few handfuls and feel a strong sense of accomplishment (that is, if they don’t eat them all first). Cherry tomatoes and strawberries are also easy for little-hand harvesting.
2. Linger and Learn
Remember gardening is not a sprint-to-the-finish proposition, especially if you have kids. I’ve learned that if I let go of schedules and instead take the time to linger in the garden with Liam, all sorts of learning opportunities arise, typically stemming from his nature-prompted questions. Some I can easily answer: “Why did Dad plant a bunch of beans next to the broccoli?” “Companion planting and the importance of diversity in nature,” I answer. Some require a little more time and thought: “Does God have a garden?” But all lead to learning opportunities amongst the onions.
3. Involve in Planning
If kids will eat anything they harvest themselves, imagine what can happen when they get the opportunity to help decide what will be planted in the garden. Pouring over seed catalogs and helping decide what the garden will look like prompts everything from reading descriptions to math (add up the total order, what is the cost per seed) to garnering a deeper understanding of the growing cycle and developing a respect for the value of food.
4. Share the Abundance
Use your garden bounty to remind kids of the importance of sharing with others in our community. When our garden is in peak season, we’re always packing up some extras for friends and family when we make a trip into town. Seniors break out in a warm smile when Liam shows up at their doorstep, doing his best Jedi Knight impersonation with cucumber light sabers. We’re usually invited to stop in and chat, cookies appear, community grows, one cucumber at a time.
5. Evolve Annually
Think of every gardening season as an opportunity to add a dose of freshness to your growing plan, adding new levels and layers are kids grow. This year, at age seven, Liam took ownership for his own garden row, deciding what to grow (popcorn), deciding on the variety, planting, weeding and, eventually, harvesting and potentially sharing as holiday gifts.
Crack open some peas and open kids’ eyes, heart, mind and mouth with a dose of edible educations this gardening season.
Photo Credit: John Ivanko