How do you plant the love of gardens and nature in children? Here are seven time-tested ways to get kids away from the TV and into the garden.
Toddlers are naturally interested in the world around them. You can exercise their minds and bodies by inviting them to experience firsthand the wonders of growing plants. These early experiences may be all it takes to sow the seeds of a lifetime of gardening pleasure.
Take advantage of your youngster's curiousity. Things you may take for granted -- the way a flower turns into a seedpod -- are magical to a child. What's more, they will learn far more by touching, smelling -- and in the case of vegetable gardening, tasting -- than they will from all the books in the library.
What could be more fun than a play date that includes all your friends? Gardening is often a solitary affair for adults. But most kids enjoy playing in the dirt with their buddies. Take advantage of this tendency by supplying them with the materials and instruction they need to make something beautiful in the garden.
All of us take pride in a job well done. Older children, especially, benefit from the structure of regular chores. You might start with nothing more complex than daily watering of a planter or window box. This simple task vividly demonstrates to the child that he or she can play a genuine role in making the world a more beautiful place.
Mother Nature is the first (and best) gardener. Allow your kids the freedom to explore the natural world around them. Help grade-school kids discover hidden places in their own yard; expose older children to the majesty of mature trees in a nearly park or woodland. And celebrate when they come home all muddied and bedraggled. No worthwhile achievement comes without getting your hands dirty.
A sense of ownership and control over something is very important to all of us. Starting when your kids are young, set aside a portion of the garden that they can call their own. Many children will relish being in charge of a four-foot-square garden. "This is mine!" they can rightly say with pride when they tend the flowers that they've chosen (with your help).
A garden takes on special meaning when its fruits can be shared with others. Allow your child to pick a bouquet to share with classmates. Show her how you plant a row for the hungry and have her help you deliver the produce to a nearby food pantry. Children who learn the satisfaction of sharing early on will continue to share for a lifetime.
Above all, take some time just to enjoy being with your child in the garden. Prove to him that gardening is not just about weeding and watering, that gardens are about play and pleasure as well. And that may be the most lasting lesson of all.