We've been planting our vegetable garden since our daughter was about 10 months old and our son was almost 3. My husband and I made it a point to involve them from the very beginning. We plopped our daughter's butt in the soil, gave her a plastic shovel, and she dug holes while the rest of us tilled and planted. Our son was able to help with everything: we just needed a little extra patience because it made it take that much longer. But by having our kids partake in the garden, it's helping them see the power that stems from nature while physically experiencing the perks of a little hard work.
According to the National Garden Association, in 2014, one in three households are now growing their own food. Further, there is a large jump in households with children. It looks like I'm not the only one seeing the advantages of gardening with kids. For me, I've noticed that gardening truly brings our family together, and during our age of technology overload, this feels crucial. Haley Sztykiel, LMSW, SSW, a licensed clinical social worker who focuses her time on and with children, says, "Gardening allows children to disconnect from technology while providing hands-on and direct engagement with the nature." So, each year in late Spring we plan the garden first, then plant and nourish. Finally, we get to harvest together.
Even the planning part is fun. My son and I make it a date every single year to grab breakfast together and then head to our local greenhouse to buy our veggies. I let him choose whatever plants he wants (with an order from his little sister, of course), hoping he just might eat them. I have a feeling that when he thinks back to his childhood, he'll remember this annual event with Mom — and if I'm lucky, even pass the tradition down to his own children.
Next, we plant. Both kids (ages 5 and 7 now) love to plant and watch our veggies grow. They're not afraid to get dirty (really dirty) and put in a long day's work of tilling, digging, and planting. Having our garden has taught them incredible patience. Sztykiel said, "Gardening allows children to develop a sense of nurture, the importance of patience, and the value of properly caring for something while it grows." I can certainly attest to this idea of patience because I've seen it blossom firsthand.
The first couple of years of our garden, my kids forgot that plants don't grow overnight. I remember my daughter waking up the next day after planting and crying, "Why aren't the tomatoes growing?" I needed to remind her that we have to water them — and wait. But her and her brother certainly remember now. In Michigan, we don't even get our tomatoes until late August. In my kids' minds, this means they have to wait a long time to eat Mom's spaghetti or pizza sauce.
Once the vegetables are ready, my kids are the ones who do the picking. It causes fights because they both love doing it so much. (See, growing a garden helps them learn conflict resolution, too.) After the broccoli is snipped and the zucchini is pulled, they come into the house with their arms full and plop their goods on the counter. There's soil all over the place. Next, they drag their chairs over to the sink, stand on them, and wash their produce. They feel so proud. After this, the kids love to help me chop them up and get messy in the kitchen. They giggle when they see the "tomato guts" ooze out. It feels so rewarding to watch my kids help grow produce from garden to table.
Our garden has become a center point to our Summers. Our days revolve around it — if it needs to be watered, if weeds need to be pulled, what is ready to be picked, and what we should grill from it for dinner that night. My kids have learned to treat our garden with respect, and dare I say love. Do they eat everything from it? Of course not, they're kids. But it has made them more adventurous in trying new foods. My son loves the zucchini grilled while our daughter prefers the cucumbers raw. To me, it's much more than just the fact that they're eating healthy. Because our garden, it teaches my kids much more than that.