April is Kids Garden Month, a month devoted to highlighting the many reasons why we should get kids into the garden and a time to remind us that there are many resources available to help us do just that. The big take away is that you don’t have to be a master gardener to develop a child with green thumb, you just need to get them into the garden and learn along with them.
There are many reasons to encourage children to garden and the teachable moments are nearly immeasurable. There are physical and social emotional benefits, as well as lessons about the environment, and, of course, nutrition. While all of these benefits are important, it’s the connection to nutrition that I’m particularly excited about, especially for children who aren’t interested in fruits and vegetables. For caregivers who struggle to get their children to consume their “five a day” of fruits and vegetables, the gardening season may just be what you’ve been looking for. Indeed, when the impact of gardening was examined among families living in San Jose, California, researchers found that produce intake increased to meet the recommended guideline. The USDA has also collected data that support this connection.
It’s important to create a connection between the garden and kitchen that inspires children to prepare produce and want to eat it too. There are a few ways we can do this and some terrific resources to help you successfully grow your own home, school or community garden:
Different Activities for Different Kids
Into fairies? Start with a fairy garden to inspire kids to get outside and around dirt. Kitchen scrap gardens or those made from recycled goods are perfect for your scientists or environmentalists to be, or consider just going for it with a “salad” garden. The bottom line is that a garden doesn’t have to be a traditional garden, but rather another place for children to express themselves.
As Your Garden Grows
It can take awhile for that first tomato to appear or a cucumber to be long enough to pick. The challenge is to maintain the interest of your children along the way. Celebrate changes in growing plants by measuring other transformations along the way. Focus on nurturing the garden with a proper watering schedule and maintaining healthy and nutritive soil. Including a few fast-growing crops like radishes and peas can also help provide earlier reward for their good care of the garden.
The First Harvest
Celebrate your first harvest…regardless of how big it is. Bring your bounty into the kitchen, seek age-appropriate recipes and use what you picked to make a salad or other dish. What if you don’t have quite enough? Consider visiting your local farmers market and adding to your bounty…one farmer to another.
Unique to School Gardens
Depending on the climate you live in, growing a school garden without a greenhouse can be a great challenge. When the weather is finally perfect for growing, school is just about ending, which makes it very hard to use it to inspire children or even maintain it for that matter. If you are looking to start a school garden, I highly suggest connecting with an organization or volunteer group to maintain it over the summer, possibly as a community garden. You can also seek grants that may help you purchase a greenhouse to turn that outdoor space into a year-round garden.