Start a Garden—Make it a Lesson!

Not only do I firmly believe that gardening gives children a greater appreciation for nature, but I believe that the garden can be a classroom and a great way to teach children about nutrition, biology, math, science, and history. Most children will be interested in gardening if you invite them to participate and show them the wonders waiting to be discovered!

Our family has an “urban farm” and grows most of our food. It’s a big job, so naturally the kids are involved and we use it as a source of entertainment and education. Sure, there are times taking care of it feels like a chore, but we try to get around this by setting an example. Too many times we expect children to do what we say without giving them the backstory or knowledge about why we do what we do. For example, my boys take turns feeding our compost to our chickens. We teach them the importance of our chickens for our garden:

• They eat our leftover food, which keeps it away from a landfill.
• They give us droppings that turns into fertilizer and soil after we compost it.
• Their egg shells release calcium powder for our tomatoes.
• They eat lots of bugs and grubs!

Chickens are an essential part of our homestead—and they’re pretty cute! 

We also talk about the importance of plants since they absorb carbon. They learn how growing our own food ensures that we eat organic and healthy food without pesticides. They also learn about the science behind composting—which involves some digging and dirt fun!

Our kids are involved at whatever level they can be for any garden projects, including: building boxes, turning soil, digging up potatoes, pruning trees, or harvesting. No matter how they are involved, they are always learning something that will remain of value for the rest of their lives.

My tips for getting children interested in gardening:

• Let kids choose what to plant: Kids feel empowered when they can make decisions. Offer guidance and make sure there are some successful, thriving plants among their selection. But listen to their ideas, and let them play and experiment. Our kids each have a fruit tree they helped plant.
• Don’t expect perfection: This is the time to get messy, connect with the earth, and feel the dirt between your fingers!
• Give them a task or make them a helper: Kids love to feel special, and when you give them something to oversee, they feel that you trust them. It can be something simple like watering or dropping seeds into holes you have dug together.
• Be creative: Allow them to create their own plant markers or garden ornaments. They can paint on stones or popsicle sticks and stick them next to the plant. You can also plant a theme garden! For example, a pizza garden would contain tomatoes, basil, garlic, and oregano. Children will love planning meals when they harvest. Don’t worry about the result or how neat it looks.
• Read books: Learning about what to grow and how to take care of it keeps children interested and educated. 

Gardening is fun, so invite your kids to play and discover what the outdoors has to offer! Start slowly and give your children lots of encouragement. Once they share your enthusiasm and passion for gardening, your flowers and vegetables won’t be the only things that blossom!

Fredrika Syren and her family live on a self described “urban homestead” just ten minutes off the freeway in the middle of San Diego. Together the family cares for a 400 square foot backyard garden, which provides the base for many of their meals.