Question: How do I get my kids or grandkids interested in gardening?
Answer: Start early. Magical moments happen in a garden for children as they are growing and exploring. Curiosity is at its highest peak when a child is between the ages of 2 and 6. During this time, life-long opinions are being shaped, habits being created, and foundational thoughts are being formed. Each of these areas will lead a child to favor certain areas of interest over others. Gardening can begin very early with little ones and encourage learning.
Toddler and preschool aged youth are very much learning to use their 5 senses. These senses include: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. The garden is overflowing with sense fulfilling opportunities. Something as simple as giving them a safe environment to enjoy digging into the soil can help build an interest in gardening. Touch, site, and smell are all senses used with such a simple experience. “Is the soil wet, dry, soft or hard?” are great questions to conquer while in the garden and exploring soils. All of these are areas of growth that a toddler and preschooler are learning to conceptualize and process through at their young age.
Flowers are another example of helping a child discover their senses while in the garden. Picture in your mind the beautiful yellow squash blooms that are rampant in gardens in the spring. These flowers can be seen visually, touched, some tasted (if edible) and smelled. Flowers are an excellent way to also teach basic colors and shapes. Counting blossoms can be another great skill taught when wondering through the garden. With each discovery of a flower within the garden be sure to point out and discuss with your little one all of the senses being used. There are many examples such as soils, flowers, plants, and insects growing and buzzing about in the garden that can build interest in the garden even at an early age.
By far, leading by example is the biggest and most prevalent avenue to leading a little one to the garden. If you want your child to have interest in a garden, you should first set the stage and show interest yourself. Unplug the TV, put down the gaming systems, turn off the phones and get outside in the garden with your kids or grandkids. Kids will do by nature what they see others doing in their own environment. If they see and recognize the garden as a common and safe family place, they will feel more motivated to be in this surrounding too. Just as common as the kitchen and bathroom are in a household, extend your household boundaries to the yard and make the garden a common gathering area also. Not to mention this will help build a place of conversation, teach thought processing skills, and initiate a life-long respect for gardening.
If you are a parent or grandparent that is new to gardening and would like to learn to garden and involve your kids in the process, start in your neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to make a stop at the next-door neighbor who always has a beautiful buffet of veggies each spring and start a conversation. Most life-long gardeners are full of information that can only be learned through experience and are excited to share such knowledge.
Also, don’t be afraid to explore local resources such as neighbors, your local NC Cooperative Extension office, farmer’s markets, local farmers, community libraries and online resources to learn more about gardening. Within the next few months, more articles will be coming your way to help explore kids and gardening specifically. Upcoming topics will include what to grow and when, online resources available for family gardens, how to get little ones to eat more veggies, and various other topics. I look forward to helping you and your family explore family gardening issues in future articles and truly hold this as a personal passion. A garden is a magical place for kids that will teach life-long skills and build a life-long passion for the ability to provide their own food sources.
Reminder: Please call the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Center at (910) 592-7161 with your horticultural questions and to register for any upcoming events. Be sure to check out the Ask An Expert Widget at sampson.ces.ncsu.edu for any questions you may have.
(Editor’s Note: Amanda Bradshaw is an Extension Agent with the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Service.)