Getting Kids to be Garden Savvy
Getting Kids to be Garden Savvy
By Natasha Grogan, The Sage Garden
The heart of The Sage Garden is to get children in the soil and growing their own food. I want children to feel a connection with the earth and to feel excited about growing food that is good for the environment and healthy for their growing bodies. Introducing gardening to your own family and engaging your children to grow their own food is another matter. It was one thing for me to go into schools and family homes as the ‘expert’, but now as a mother myself, I have had to learn a few tricks to get my babes interested in gardening.
Be a gardener. You don’t need to be a good gardener or a well-educated gardener, you just have to show up in the garden with enthusiasm and a sense of wonder. It is your job to pave the way for curiosity and action. Not all children are going to stand by your side, a keen gardener and learner from day one. Perhaps they never will, but they will always have their moments. And it is our job to nurture those moments.
You know your child. Will digging a hole grab their interest? Would spotting a spider or ladybird, or putting compost in the compost bin or making a bird scarer or garden label? I don’t think I have found one child yet (and I have taught hundreds, maybe even thousands, of children to garden) who doesn’t love to harvest. The other day I was at a home visit chatting to three children about their existing veggie patch when they asked me, “How will we know when our apples are ready?” I pulled an apple off the tree, ate it and said, “If they come off like that, they are ready.” You have never seen three pairs of hands dive into an apple tree so fast. There was pure joy on their faces. If you are in the garden with your children you will see moments like these in spades, and in these moments life is very simple and real.
Embrace the dirty side of gardening. You must not let the dirt get in the way of a good time. My babe has gardened in everything from party dresses and dinosaur costumes to bathers. I have never stopped a moment of gardening pleasure to tell her not to get dirty. Life is way too short.
Be a give-it-a-go gardener. This is a term I have coined for myself, perhaps as a way to disguise my shocking memory and/or my sometimes blatant disregard for the rules. There are some exceptions to this term. Seasonal food is just that, you cannot go against the seasons. Tomatoes will not grow in Melbourne in July, but if you want to try growing your tomato up a tree in November, give it a go. If you want to grow pumpkins on your roof in December, give it a go. If your child asks to do almost anything in the garden, answer “give it a go”. Gardening gives us a great and real opportunity to teach children about the world around us – how to deal with the disappointment of a possum eating all your tomatoes, or the patience that comes with waiting three months for a single head of broccoli, or the beauty of a beetroot going to seed so that we can plant and harvest more beetroots. Giving it a go builds confidence to go ahead and do, and a healthy respect for the outcomes whether they are positive or negative.
When it comes to growing food for your own family, I say grow what you like to eat. It is good to try new things, but there is no point having an entire bed of celery if you never cook with it. Last year we grew Kohlrabi, which was actually delicious in a potato pancake but we will not fill our garden with it again this winter. I feel like every garden should be full of herbs and lettuce year round, both are easy to grow and way too expensive to buy by comparison. If you love tomatoes, grow every variety you can get your hands on. This summer my youngest became a full-time eater (and actually eats the rest of us under the table). I have realised I need to plant way more carrots, beans, peas and next summer go crazy on the corn! Growing the food you love to eat and eating it together as a family is the goal, and telling your child to give it a try because we grew it is a great way to encourage better eating.
Lastly, the most fun thing I have discovered since gardening with my own babe is that once a week I give her a container of seeds that are ready to plant, usually a mixture of herbs, flowers and vegetables, and I tell her to go plant them in the garden. This is a favourite activity for a few reasons: one, I love discovering the random and strangely placed food around our garden; two, she has better success with her seeds germinating than I do; and thirdly (and yes most importantly), in these moments she is engaged, quiet and I sit in another part of the garden maybe even drinking half a cup of tea enjoying the view.
So go on, give it a go.
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