Spring is just two months away, which is why now is the time to start planning for one of the easiest, most educational, and truly satisfying of parent-child activities: the family garden.
Now, before your brain gets in the way and says, “I’ve never planted a garden and it sounds difficult!” or, “I don’t have enough yard for a garden,” or, “I tried a garden before and it didn’t work,” read on and we’ll ease your mind.
More important, we’ll show how the magic of family gardening builds bonds between kids and parents, teaches kids a thing or two about their food (and even convinces them to eat it), builds healthier kids through outdoor fun, and more.
Overcoming Your Concerns
You’ve never grown a garden and it sounds like an awful lot of hard, dirty work. Not so, say gardening experts galore.
The key is to start small and simple and make it personal. Not ready to grow food but love the annual visit of butterflies? Consider a pollinator garden, which not only attracts your colorful friends but teaches your kids about the complete lifecycle of a butterfly.
Do your kids love digging in the dirt? Put in an edible garden consisting of 2-3 rows of vegetables. Let your kids do the digging – sanctioned dirtiness! – and watch them marvel at where their food actually originates.
No lawn for a garden? Don’t sweat it, there are still ways to grow with your kids, including growing tomatoes or herbs in window pots.
Seriously folks, there are literally no downsides to gardening, but tons of benefits. Now let’s dig into (pun intended) that upside.
Growing the Parent-Child Bond
Most of us have particularly strong childhood memories of a parent, grandparent, or other adult. For Jim Flint, executive director of Friends of Burlington Gardens, there are memories of planting with his father and preparing the harvest in the kitchen with his mother.
But Flint’s strongest memory? Simply working the garden with his grandmother: “She talked and explained things – and not just gardening.” Indeed, gardening with a child is one of those ultra-rare activities that both child and parent engage in as one and where conversation and connection can flow, organically if you will.
Incredible Edible Education
Every parent has a war story or two about convincing a child to eat a vegetable. That narrative changes, however, if the vegetable in question was grown by your child.
“Kids definitely get more excited about the foods they grow themselves.”
“Kids definitely get more excited about the foods they grow themselves,” says Sarah Pounder, senior education specialist for Kids Gardening. “And because we know it takes about 10 separate exposures for a child to adopt something into their diet, a garden is a great way to build that exposure since it takes a lot of time to grow most vegetables.”
And let’s not forget how much tastier homegrown produce is than the store-bought stuff, most of which is prematurely harvested so it can be shipped without damage. It’s also healthier – win-win!
Planting Seeds of Patience
Mother Nature remains stubbornly resistant to humankind’s growing demand for instant gratification. Which is why gardens are fantastic ways to teach kids patience.
“If you put too many rules or restrictions in place, it’s not going to be a good experience.”
Depending on what you choose to grow, weeks or even months can transpire from planting seeds to harvesting actual food. Brussels sprouts can take up to 110 days, while radishes come in at a blistering 21 days.
“A garden is a great way to instill patience in kids while also demonstrating just how much hard work goes into growing the food we eat,” says Pounder. “Kids come away with a whole new appreciation for farmers.”
Getting Down and Dirty
Kids – particularly young ones – love to dig in the dirt, right? So here’s your chance not just to let them get dirty, but to actually encourage it.
Pounder urges parents to give particularly young kids an area of the garden “that is just theirs and let them do what they want, even if it’s just digging in the soil. If you put too many rules or restrictions in place, it’s not going to be a good experience.”
The key is to get your child accustomed to being in the garden and tending to it. Assign responsibilities based on their ages – one child may be old enough to weed while another might be limited to watering.
As an added benefit, teaching a child to tend a garden is a terrific stepping stone to caring for a pet.
The Fun of Gardening
Perhaps the most important benefit of all is time shared by mom, dad, and the kids in an activity that all truly enjoy. Indeed, gardening is one of those unique activities that just about everyone enjoys, regardless of age or gender.
“I’ve never heard anyone tell me that gardening was a bad experience,” says Pounder. “It can be done at all sizes and scales and there’s something for everyone.”
So as winter moves toward spring, start noodling the kind of garden that’s right for you and your family. It’s good for you, the environment, and it will plant memories in the minds of your children far into the future.