Categories: Parental Concerns, Curriculum |
It's nearly summer break and the season of, "I don't have anything to do!" Parents across the country are worrying about children who are too heavy; who don't get outside enough or get enough exercise; who are failing in school; and with whom they feel that they are becoming increasingly out of touch. There is a perfect summer activity that will address all of these issues and more...plant a garden with your child!
Most children have an affinity for digging around in dirt and inspecting creepy crawlies. They are curious about how everything works and most will be fascinated by being able to actually see the changes in a plant from see to sprout to adult plant. But what most children enjoy above all else is spending time with mom and dad. Gardening gives them the opportunity to do all of these things. Besides the obvious benefits of learning about how plants grow, exercise, fresh air, and companionship, gardening also can encourage children to:
- Eat their vegetables. Corn is a whole lot less mysterious when you've planted the seed...watered...weeded and watched it grow. In fact it might be interesting enough to eat!
- Use their imagination as they figure out all of the possible uses of plants like gourds.
- To practice decision making; for instance in deciding the best place to start a garden.
- Nurturing plants is a great way to teach children to take care of themselves and others and builds in them a sense of responsibility.
- Successfully growing a garden that produces vegetables and flowers also helps to improve a child's self-esteem.
One of the most important things to remember when planning a garden with your child is to allow them to take ownership. Let them choose the location for the garden. Have them decide on its shape and the types of plants to grow. Although you will have to do much of the research on the easiest plants to germinate...let your child make the final decisions on which seeds to buy. As a side note, be prepared to cheat a little during this entire process. It's OK for you to thin the seedlings when your child is not around because they will likely not understand that you're not just a wanton plant murderer. Similarly, you might have to sneak out and do some extra weeding or soil preparation. Remember, the object is to have a successful garden!
Best Plants For Children
- Carefree vegetables like beets, carrots, cucumbers, onions, peas, radishes, spinach, snow peas, and rhubarb.
- Bright, colorful flowers like marigolds, nasturtiums and sweet peas. Nasturtiums and sweet peas are particularly good for very young children since the seeds are so large; easy to handle and hard to destroy. Make sure though that all flowering plants that you choose are non-toxic.
- Bush beans are fun for children because they have a high yield and grown low enough for children to help with harvesting.
- Potatoes are another fun, hands on crop. Although you will have to cut the potatoes, it will be fascinating for children to actually help prepare the potatoes to be planted. Red varieties will mature faster.
- Sunflowers are fun because they will grow larger than your child. If planted in the right locations and staked properly they also make a really cool sunflower house.
- "Special" plants like Easter Egg radishes that produce red, purple and white radishes and small, miniature pumpkins are especially fun for children.
- Heavily scented herbs like mints, thyme, and basil are good choices too. Your child will be fascinated with a mix of colors, textures, and scents.
The Best Planting Method
Although many of the seeds mentioned can be sown directly into the soil, it will be easier to start the seeds indoors and then to transplant them outside. One of the best and least expensive ways to do this is to use paper egg cartons.
- Save up egg cartons during the winter for the spring planting.
- Help your child cut off the lids.
- Have them fill each little depression about half way with potting soil...drop a seed (or seeds depending on their size) into each cup...and cover with another tablespoon of potting soil. Be sure to teach your child to remember to water...but not to over-water.
- Place your new, finished "planters" on cookie sheets and place them on a table in the sun. Creating a greenhouse by tenting cellophane over the cups will help them to germinate quickly.
- Once the seedlings are established you are ready to transfer them to the garden. I like this method because it is easy for mom to cut the carton sections apart and it's easy for your child to handle the little cups without mangling the tiny plant. NOTE - although the cartons will decompose, it's a good idea to punch a hole in the bottom before planting so the fragile roots have an easy way out.
Fun Learning Activities
Since the seeds you've so carefully planted will not jump immediately out of the ground; here are some fun activities to do with your child while you're waiting...and they might just answer some questions too.
- How do plants drink water...they don't have mouths? Take a stalk of celery and slice off the bottom with a sharp knife. In a tall class mix water with enough red food coloring to make the water a nice deep color. Place the stalk in the water. As transpiration occurs the colored water will be pulled up the stalk.
- A variation of this experiment is to use a daisy and to watch the petals turn red.
- Fill a clear plastic cup with potting soil and place large seeds like beans down the side of the cup agains the side. As the seeds germinate your child will be able to imagine what's going on in the ground in his garden.
Great Summer Books About Gardens
- Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy
- Gardening - Activities for 3-5 year olds by Caroline Quin
- Sunflower Houses : Inspiration from the Garden - A Book for Children and Their Grown-Ups by Sharon Lovejoy
- Golden Delicious: A Cinderella Apple Story by Anna Egan Smucker and Kathleen Kemly
- I Really Wonder What Plant I'm Growing by Lauren Child
- Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden by George Levenson and Shmuel Thaler
- Where Butterflies Grow by Joanne Ryder and Lynne Cherry