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Teaching Kids Through Gardening

Vegetable and flower gardens are beginning to pop up around our neighborhood.  Freshly turned soil sits waiting for seeds and transplants to blossom into nature’s bountiful harvest of flowers, spices...

Vegetable and flower gardens are beginning to pop up around our neighborhood.  Freshly turned soil sits waiting for seeds and transplants to blossom into nature’s bountiful harvest of flowers, spices and vegetables.

If you have a picky eater or a young child who spends way too much time playing video games or on the computer, gardening may be the key to more outdoor activities, an appreciation for different tastes and quality time together.

Gardens can be wonderful living classrooms that not only produce bountiful crops and lovely flowers, but also take our attention off of acquiring and playing with one-dimensional objects. Electronics seems to have taken over just about everyone’s lives these days, especially children. If it’s not the “smart” phone, it’s loud and frantic video games or websites and TV shows. Many times it’s all these things spinning at the same time making it difficult to focus on just one item for more than a few seconds. 

Gardening requires patience, time, and getting your hands dirty – pretty much the opposite of electronic addiction - but the payoff can be enormous.

Vegetable gardening is not only transformative for adults but it can help children think about food, life and nature differently.

Enticing children away from their electronic gadgets requires imagination and maybe even a little quirkiness. Young children appreciate the whimsical, so cute signs, meandering paths, archways and garden creatures can be a good place to begin. Create little signs for the garden with the names of the different vegetables. Let your little one draw a picture of the carrots, potatoes, beans and broccoli or whatever vegetables your region grows well, then place them in the garden plot.

You can section off a part of the garden as the “pizza garden” or “soup garden” or salad garden.” Pizza gardens are popular because what kid doesn’t like pizza?

Plant garlic, tomatoes, onions, basil, thyme and even squash and spinach; each item to one day find its way onto a homemade pizza!

Another way to draw kids into the garden is to share it with their friends. Plan a garden party and give your child and his or her friends seeds, spoons and hand shovels to sow together. Be sure and let the parents know ahead of time that their kids will be getting dirty and probably a little wet, so they can have them dressed appropriately. 

After planting, you can create a story time to talk about germination and transplanting. There are cute books for kids that use age appropriate story lines and pictures you can read from and show.

Once the garden is started, taking care of it- yes, the dreaded weeding & watering- can be a wonderful way to bond by talking with your child about their day at school, latest friends, favorite music and generally whatever is on their minds. It’s also a good time to share stories of when you were little and the people who were important in your life.

Gardening together can provide a much-needed physical and emotional break from the daily stresses of work, school and even day care.

Studies have shown that children who are picky eaters tend to try the foods they plant and nurture. Straight from the garden to the plate seems to help break the “I don’t like that” or “I don’t want to try that food” barrier. In a way, when a child helps grow their own vegetables, it seems to build a relationship with and a change of attitude about different foods. Many parents have found that this way of introducing new foods works better than demanding, begging or manipulation. 

Berries and fruits provide healthy anti-oxidants and vitamins. Strawberries, blueberries, grapes and watermelons are relatively easy to grow and make delicious smoothies and cereal toppings.

Vegetable gardens can be a useful place to continue your child’s education about healthy foods, responsibility and becoming good stewards of the earth.

While vegetable gardens often serve many purposes, so can flower and spice gardens. Just being around beautiful and fragrant flowers or touching and smelling the rich aromas of different spices can have a calming effect.

Creating a family garden can become another valuable tool in raising a grounded and happy adult.

Source: Laura Mathews, http://www.rareseeds.com/teach-children-to-love-the-garden/

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About Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award winning pediatrician and medical editor for www.kidsdr.com.  She is a native of Washington, D.C. who travelled south to attend the University of Texas at Austin and never left.Read More

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