- Learn to work and appreciate- This is the most important lesson, I believe, that children can learn from gardening. They actually do the work of weeding and watering the plants. They gain experience. Children need to have a chore, a responsibility, a goal and they need to be expected to follow through. Laziness cannot be a way of life! Kids need to work from an early age, even if it is something small, like watering a strawberry patch. If working is a way of life when they are younger then it won’t be as much of a shock when they are expected to work when they are older. Gardening is the perfect opportunity for a child to gain an appreciation for how much work it takes to create the food we eat.
- Have fun working- Spraying water on little green sprouting plants can be fun, especially for little children. How many times have you turned on the hose and heard a little voice, “Mama… I want to help. Can I do it? Spray my hands! I wanna do it!” It’s easy to ignore these requests, but when we take the time to let our children help, we can teach them to enjoy the work. When this happens, ask yourself what you are really raising here, the garden or your children?
- Experience success-The BEST part of gardening is the bag of green beans and the bucket of strawberries you get at the end. Try cooking something you know your child likes to eat with the pants they helped grow. Make peach cobbler from the fruit of that peach tree they watered all summer, or carrot cake with their carrots they weeded. Praise them at dinner for their efforts in literally putting food on the table. Gardening can be an extremely rewarding experience for children, even if they only produce a small amount of food. I have found that homegrown peas, carrots, and tomatoes are especially sweet compared to store bought produce and the kids can taste it! If you end up with so much produce that your family can’t eat it all, can it, freeze it, or give it away. Don’t let your child’s hard work go to waste.
- Experience failure- Don’t let this one surprise you. Everyone will fail sometime in their life. Most of us more than once. How will your child handle it? Will they plant new seeds and start again while the sun is still shining? Sometimes this lesson is the hardest to let our children make. But how else will our children learn how to become resilient in the face of failure? We, as parents, want to help them so they’ll never fail, but it is better to let them make small mistakes, so we can teach them how to bounce back. A garden teaches children that if they do not water it, the plants will die. Learning this first-hand can be a hard lesson. Failure is difficult and many of us try to avoid it, but most success in this life is discovered only after many failures. It isn’t the end, or the time to give up, and a garden can be the perfect opportunity to help children realize that lesson.
- Learn to eat healthy food- Having a garden that your children helped plant and water, is one way to encourage them to eat healthy as well. Homegrown produce is organic. It’s healthy. It’s real food that usually tastes a whole lot better than store produce. So try it. If you are debating whether or not to start a garden, start one, even if it is just a small one.
After living in the country at the foot of the Teton Mountains, it was a difficult move to the city. The house in the city we moved to had a patch of grass in the back, that city folk thought was sufficient for a yard. I begged to differ.
Growing up in Northern California on 4 acres spoiled me. I admit it. We had a big creek with a forest of trees to explore, 30 chickens, 2 goats, 10 fruit trees, a huge garden, blackberry patch, 2 beehives, and a ¼th acre vineyard of grapes you could eat right off the vine. (grapes grow really well in Northern California)
Now that I was married, I wanted the same thing for my own kids. I wanted them to have adventures in their backyard to run around and spend hours in the sun in the summer. I wanted our own garden that the kids could water and weed so they could learn the value of hard work and literally eat the fruit -and vegetables- of their labors.
These days so much time is spent on video games, and hightech devices, I felt my children were missing out on the best part of their childhood: being a kid! You know… like, running in the sprinklers, jumping on the trampoline, using their imagination and even getting muddy, -every once in awhile. They needed a place to do that!
In the city, finding a house with a yard is a challenge, but after searching for 2 months we were able to find a home we liked, with the potential for a backyard. We moved in at the end of September and I wondered that whole winter if creating a real backyard was even possible. I remember the first time I tried walking down that cliff of a back yard. I slipped and scratched up my leg. Limping back into the house, I felt defeated and hopeless, honestly thinking, “My kids would never have a real back yard.”
Whenever I would voice my concerns to my neighbors, I’d usually end up hearing words like, “Oh, you were just spoiled in the country,” “Just be grateful for what you have,” “That’s why we have parks,” and “You can’t have acreage in the city unless you’re a millionaire.” I had to admit they were all right. I was spoiled. I wasn’t grateful. There were plenty of parks around and homes with flat, big yards usually came with a hefty price tag.
I decided to make the best of it. That winter I worked extra jobs sewing alterations for some neighbors and made some money. I bought paint, a storage shelf for toy boxes, and wall decals to make a fun toy room for the kids. I covered cardboard boxes with Dr. Seuss fabric for the kids’ toys and painted grass and clouds on the walls. I finished the new toy room, complete with Truffula trees and Dr. Seuss quotes, in just three days. I was determined and very satisfied with my results. Now they could have a place to play.
After the snow melted, my husband and his brother began their huge project of transforming our cliff into a real back yard. I admit, I didn’t have much faith, but I wasn’t going to stand in their way if they were willing to try.
This is my husband’s brother, just starting to taking down the fence. You can see in this picture how the yard used to look.
My brother-in-law, who had experience working for a landscaping company, rented a mini-excavator and slowly inched his way down the hill. He cut into the side of the mountain, pressing the dirt down to make a pathway and then would ride on top of it, and continue on. It was scary just watching him. I remember standing on our deck, phone in hand, looking down where my brother-in-law was digging with the excavator. I was ready to call 911 just in case he tumbled down the steep hill in that clunky piece of machinery. Thank goodness I never had to use that phone. I really didn’t want to call my mother-in-law and tell her that her son died trying to dig up my back yard!
After my husband’s brother dug a path down to the bottom of the hill and flattened out the land, I was on cloud nine! I just couldn’t believe that it looked so good. We still had so much work to do, but I had just witnessed the impossible happen and it was no less of a miracle to me. We were going to have a yard after all.
This project took my husband and his brother about three weeks, working almost every day, all day long. They put up the fence, laid the grass, and treated the soil for our garden. I happily planted grapes, strawberries, corn, carrots, onions, potatoes, green beans, peas, lettuce, and tomatoes, apple trees, and peach trees.
Now my oldest two boys who are 7 and 5 years old, water the grapes, fruit trees and vegetable garden. My 3-year-old daughter has her very own job of watering the strawberry patch. With over 100 strawberry plants this is no easy task, but she knows the strawberries will die if she doesn’t do her job. Usually, when we all go outside to water and work in our back yard, my daughter goes straight for the strawberry patch and gets right to work without complaint. -This is a big deal, people…she’s 3!