Growing vegetables and herbs.Kids love to play in the mud. So why not give them an opportunity to learn about vegetable gardening while they’re at it?
Planning a vegetable garden is easy! You can start with a trip to the grocery store to give your children the opportunity to explore the wide variety of vegetables they can grow. Do a little research with your child on each vegetable: Learn how it grows (above or below the ground), and what it needs in terms of sun, water and soil type.
Decide on the garden’s location. Keep in mind that the garden should be accessible easily, and kids should be able to work in the space as well. They can enjoy watching their garden grow, take pride in their accomplishment and eventually snack on its wonderful bounty.
A raised bed is ideal, but so are containers. The raised bed should not be too wide or too high. A child needs to be able to reach the plants, to weed and to water without walking in the bed. Container gardens (clay pots, an old coffee can or plastic containers) are great for kids who don’t have a backyard or community garden. Pots need adequate soil for plant growth, a drainage hole and frequent watering. Remember, you should be the facilitator for your young gardeners by showing them how to plant seeds or seedlings, as well as how to weed, prune and water.
In the garden, kids will learn how seeds sprout and grow. Remind them that not all seeds germinate. Bugs in the garden are part of the ecosystem. Kids love bugs and enjoy watching their work habits and habitats. Kids are most curious about insects, worms and grubs. They are not afraid of insects unless they learn fear from adults. You should encourage and teach them about all creatures in the garden with humor, wonder and respect.
Gardening tools should be kid-friendly and safe, and children should be responsible for cleaning and storing the tools. A small, plastic storage bin near the garden will allow for easy access and encourage a daily gardening routine. Also, there needs to be a convenient water source — such as a hose or bucket to fill — available to the young gardeners.
Plants that grow quickly and are easy for kids to cultivate and pick include lettuce, beans, carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs such as mint, parsley and basil. Making tags for each row of vegetables will enable the young gardeners to identify each plant. As the garden matures and vegetables ripen, ask your kids if they would like to harvest some vegetables for dinner. Even if it is only five green beans, thank them and serve them for dinner. Don’t forget to say how delicious everything was!
Spending time with your child creating a vegetable garden can be fun and rewarding. Gardening teaches children how to interact with and respect nature, and helps them learn about nurturing and being responsible for living things. In addition, it gives kids who are often inside the opportunity to spend time outdoors.
Gardening also gives children the chance to feel good about themselves — it helps build their confidence and self-esteem.
You should encourage your children to take responsibility for the garden in its entirety. Each child can contribute ideas and imagine what the garden should look like. I often told my kids to bloom where they are planted. We always had a garden that was a sense of pride for them. I can still see the seven pumpkins in our mulch pile that were grown from a discarded Halloween pumpkin, and the thrill on three young faces when they ripened and were carved. Priceless!
Jo Ann Serota, CPNP, MSN, IBCLC, co-owner of Ambler Pediatrics, has been in pediatrics for over 25 years. A past-president of NAPNAP, she is involved with the NAPNAP Foundation and the Journal of Pediatric Health Care.