In our community garden group, we encourage children to get involved in our gardens! Join us.
By Kim Grant, ksl.com Contributor
SALT LAKE CITY — Many people wonder how to interest their children in gardening and with good reason.
Rhonda Thorson, a Utah State University graduate in plant science, has spent the last 15 years teaching 4-H gardening classes to kids. She says helping children learn to garden can teach discipline, increase self-esteem and be a great way to spend time together as a family.
It won't be easy at first — children become easily impatient and will quite possibly lose interest while plants are in their infancy — but here are seven steps for keeping little ones engaged until they can "reap" the rewards of their efforts:
Step 1: Set an example
Thorson suggests the best way to spark interest is to show children you love to garden. If you’ve made good garden memories in the past with your kids, they should be anxious to join you in the “fun.”
If gardening isn’t for you personally, but you still want to pass down a "green thumb" to your children, Thorson recommends finding another adult who enjoys it and is willing to spend time with your child. This is where a group like the 4-H Junior Master Gardener program can come in handy.
Since younger children love to imitate adults, get them their own set of tools, like gloves, rakes, trowels and buckets. Because preparing the soil is an important first task, they’ll be ready to help right from the start.
Step 2: Design away
Let the kids help design part of the garden that they can call their own. This could mean dividing the garden up among each child and letting them choose a main vegetable they want to plant.
They can also make homemade markers to keep track of different plants. Just buy or save popsicle sticks, then use earth-friendly supplies from a craft store or empty seed packets to decorate the tops of the sticks. They could even make a sign proclaiming their territory, like “Mary’s Marigolds” or “Tom’s Tomatoes.”
Step 3: Watch the plants grow
Choose easy-to-grow plants for your children, and as many different ones as you can get into your space. Carrots, radishes and tomatoes are good vegetable choices.
Starting from seed is a good learning experience, but Thorson recommends avoiding the "bean-in-a-cup" approach. Waiting for something to sprout in a cup on the windowsill isn't the most rewarding experience.
Small children will find large seeds such as corn, beans and sunflowers easy to handle and plant, but you may also want to consider buying a few starts at your local greenhouse. Then, to keep your childrens' focus, start a log to plot the growth of different plants. For an art project, have the children make a drawing of the plant every week and add it to the log.
For older children, this is a wonderful time to set a goal to enter their vegetables and bouquets in contests at the local fair or town events, or to join a group such as a community garden or 4-H. These activities combine gardening with friendships — an important part of life.
Step 4: Let books inspire you
Consider incorporating reading into gardening with books like "The Tiny Seed" by Eric Carle, "Flower Garden" by Eve Bunting or "The Carrot Seed" by Ruth Krauss. Also, "Growing Vegetable Soup" by Lois Ehlert can be used for inspiration if creating a vegetable soup garden.
Step 5: Take a field trip
Teach kids about agriculture with a trip to a farm, a community or botanical garden. Not only is this another great way to spend time together as a family, it will create many positive gardening memories.
The Utah Botanical Center in Kaysville, Utah, has some wonderful summer programs for youth. So do many other community programs, such as Wasatch Gardens in Salt Lake City. You could also take the initiative and visit a nursery or greenhouse and ask for a tour.
Step 6: Study in nature’s school
This is the perfect opportunity to learn about other things related to gardening as well. Have a lesson on the importance of beneficial insects that help pollinate and protect plants; look for worms and other interesting life you might encounter; or have a math lesson as you map out your design, pay for plants and figure out the potential harvest.
Discuss the relationship humans have with the earth and the importance of eco-friendly improvements like creating a compost system to feed plants and determining the most efficient watering system.
Step 7: Relax
Finally, when gardening with children, standards have to be relaxed. Thorson reminds her groups that crooked rows and a few weeds are just fine. And when a child pulls up a handful of baby carrots and radishes, don’t despair. Explain this is merely a sign of things to come.
After all, “doing” is more important than the end result. Remember, the goal is to end up with a future gardener — not necessarily a picture-perfect garden.