Get down and dirty planing flowers or food as a family
Heading outdoors, especially in the age of COVID-19, is the perfect way for families to spend quality time together. Gardening is one spring activity filled with added benefits for kids.
“Gardening as a family brings you the joys of working together to achieve a common goal,” says Janet Douberly, program coordinator of Downtown Greens Community Greenspace in Fredericksburg. “Working side by side to grow fresh veggies teaches a child teamwork and responsibility. You also get to enjoy planning the garden together and discussing which foods everyone would like to try and grow.”
Through gardening, children learn where and how their food originates, as well as when and how different fruits and vegetables grow. They also learn about the environment in which their garden grows and how to take care of other living things.
“They learn about science, insects, counting, measuring and daily routines like watering and harvesting,” Douberly says. “Gardening can also teach patience and perseverance. Waiting for a seed to sprout or a tomato to ripen is a lesson all gardeners know well.”
Children of all ages can become a part of planting and harvesting a backyard garden, whether you decide to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs or flowers. Seeds can be planted in garden beds in the ground or in containers.
“There is always something kids can do in a garden,” Douberly says. “The youngest gardeners can not only dig holes and find worms, but they can help plant the seeds. Bean seeds are big enough for even the smallest hands to handle, and certain vegetables, like carrots, can be planted by liberally sprinkling the seeds over the soil and then covering them with another sprinkling of soil.”
Younger children can also help with weeding and collecting items for a compost pile, while older kids can do more experimenting with a garden. Douberly suggests planting different varieties of the same vegetable next to each other and observing the growth to see which grows faster and bigger, as well as which variety the kids prefer.
Gardening is also beneficial for family health, both mentally and physically. Being in nature is calming, relieves stress and provides moderate exercise, while also allowing the family to get some fresh air. Growing your own fruits and vegetables is also healthier, since you know exactly what you are putting into your bodies.
“Once children have grown their own lettuce, they can understand more fully that the vegetables on their plate come from a single seed in the ground,” Douberly says. “Children are also much more likely to like the food they grow. If you have a picky eater, having them plant, nurture and finally harvest a vegetable makes them personally invested in that piece of food, and the result is that it will taste all the sweeter for the effort spent.”
When gardening as a family, the key is to start small and have fun. Douberly also advises to begin by planting produce that you already know your child enjoys to get them interested.
“You don’t need a large garden plot to grow vegetables,” she says. “Also, keep in mind that gardening can be a gamble. Sometimes seeds don’t sprout or bugs will nibble on your seedlings. It is important to understand this from the beginning and be willing and ready to try, try again.”