Some of the best science lessons your child will ever have can happen right in your own backyard. Vegetable gardening provides valuable learning opportunities –- but, more importantly, it’s fun! Following a few guidelines will help ensure the best possible gardening experience for your child.
Involve your child in the planning stages. This provides opportunities for valuable discussions and increases your child’s sense of ownership in the project. Choosing a garden site opens the door for a chat about when and where the sun shines. Selecting seeds or seedlings may reveal your child’s taste in vegetables –- and that’s a valuable bit of knowledge.
Be realistic. A young child’s short attention span is not conducive to long, meditative hours in the garden. Consider your child’s temperament and capabilities when planning your gardening time. Similarly, try to incorporate several instant-gratification crops to keep enthusiasm high.
Assign tasks that are age-appropriate. Take into account your child’s developmental stage when drafting your to-do list in the garden. A very young child relishes digging and will love dirty-hands jobs like tilling the soil and poking seeds in the ground, while your pre-teen will enjoy the challenge of tackling more complex jobs, like planning the garden.
Increase the likelihood of success. Select hardy, pest-resistant vegetables that are easy to grow. Radishes, carrots, peas, and cucumbers are good choices.
Keep things safe. Avoid using chemicals in your garden to reduce your child’s exposure to potentially harmful substances. If you are integrating flowers in your garden, choose plants that are non-toxic.
Make gardening relevant. Discuss how you will be using the crop in your meals, and what each vegetable or fruit provides nutritionally for our bodies. Have your child harvest the fruit or vegetable and help prepare it for dinner. If a child is involved in growing and cooking a vegetable, even one he would normally avoid, he is far more likely to eat it.
Be encouraging. Children thrive on genuine praise. Offer specific feedback on a job well done, and keep any criticism constructive and positive. Brag about your child’s gardening efforts in front of him. Or better yet, present the bounty of his crop at the next big get-together for all to enjoy.
Your child may very well cultivate a lifelong passion during those warm days spent by your side in the garden!
Pamela J. Wendt is a freelance writer who lives in Tempe, Arizona.