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Gardens for Humanity: Gardening with children

Kids enjoy raking leaves and getting to play in them! (Richard Sidy/Courtesy)

Kids enjoy raking leaves and getting to play in them! (Richard Sidy/Courtesy)

When our grandchildren visit us they love to work and play in the garden. Actually, what we call “work” will likely turn into “play” in their world! Recently I asked them to rake up the leaves under our mulberry tree so that I could use them for mulch and compost. For kids, raking up a pile of leaves is so much fun, with the added bonus of getting to play in them!

Since I compost with worms, even composting is an excuse for them to play with soft wiggly creatures! They love it so much that they even wanted a birthday party activity including our worm compost. So I had the party guests feed the worms the trimmings from a fruit salad. Before feeding them, we had to smell the compost and hold the worms, adding delightful giggles and a fine excuse to get their hands dirty!

Gardening is one of the best ways to introduce children to nature and to develop in them a love for living things and the responsibility to care for them. When children plant seeds, there emerges with the seed a sense of joy seeing them sprout and grow. This is empowering for children enabling them to visibly experience their role as participants in the natural world. Their enthusiasm is also a gift to us adults who often take garden chores for granted.

In the act of gardening is an implicit sense of optimism and a view towards the future. If one were not optimistic that the seed planted would grow flowers and food, then why plant it? Through gardening children develop feelings of wonder and gratitude as they experience and help grow the potential life contained in a small seed.

A garden is a child-size version of nature. When children work in a garden, they develop a sense that they are part of nature and that nature is a part of them. This grows their connection to it, cultivates their desire to protect it, and produces in them the knowledge, tools, and desires to work with nature for mutual benefit. Assuredly, this will be important as our children and grandchildren become the stewards of the nature we love, and work to solve the environmental problems that they inherit.

Many adults remember happy times when they worked in a home garden. All the bright associations of sunlight, and smell; of interactions with insects, worms and bugs; the taste of a tomato, bean or fruit plucked ripe and eaten while still warm from the sun all contributed to our appreciation that we helped grow the food we ate. Gardening with one’s children and grandchildren evokes those memories, and establishes a beautiful continuity of life.

Garden activities emphasize not only the beauty in nature but also the scientific awareness of the parts of plants, leaves, fruits, vegetables, and the cycle of life. Children learn the interdependence of sun, earth, water and seasons in producing the food that they eat. They become aware that their daily food consists of seeds, roots, stems, leaves and the flowers of plants. This is literally botany on their plate!

To learn more about gardening with children, or to sponsor school gardens and garden programs in our community, visit the Gardens for Humanity website gardensforhumanity.org. We invite you to help us give the gift of gardening to children this holiday season.

Richard Sidy is president of Gardens for Humanity, a founding member of the Sustainability Alliance and a member of the Verde Valley Food Policy Council. To reach him, email richardvsidy@mac.com.

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