Engage your little sprouts for fun, learningBy Pamela A. Keene
Gardening offers a bumper crop of opportunities for children to learn, play and grow. It’s a wonderful way for parents and kids to spend quality time outdoors. It fosters a love of nature and a sense of responsibility of caring for living things. Everyone can see — and eat — the tangible results of their efforts, too.
You’ll need gardening tools such as trowels, shovels and rakes. Look for smaller tools that will fit kids’ hands, and purchase “real” tools rather than ineffective plastic ones that could easily break.
Start with a small plot to keep it manageable. Stake out a sunny spot because most vegetables and many flowers require at least six hours of sunshine daily. Or, you can have a container garden in a sunny place on your deck or patio. Purchase larger pots with drainage holes, and use good-quality potting soil.
Select three or fewer crops for the first year. Try fast-growing vegetables such as radishes, baby carrots, bush beans or cucumbers. Flowers that offer quick color include marigolds, nasturtiums and zinnias. Blooms with bright colors will attract pollinators to further ensure the success of your vegetable crops, says Kathy Lovett, founder of Gardens on Green in Gainesville, Georgia.
Herbs can be harvested right away, and with proper care, can keep growing all season long.
Joan Casanova, spokesperson with Bonnie Plants, a national vegetable and herb plant supplier, suggests growing the basics like basil, parsley and rosemary but also branching out with novelty herbs such as Thai basil, cinnamon basil or lemon thyme. (For more tips on growing herbs, see “Herbs for Everyone,”)
Let your kids help with easy chores like exploring the dirt for earthworms, digging holes, and placing seeds and plants in the ground.
“This is a shared activity, and it’s a chance for kids — and adults — to learn,” Lovett says. “Younger ones can also help with watering the garden and looking for insects as the crops grow.”
Take time to read with your kids to explain the science behind gardening. These titles can help: “Green Thumbs: A Kid’s Activity Guide to Indoor and Outdoor Gardening” by Laurie Winn Carlson and “Square Foot Gardening with Kids” by Mel Bartholomew. Also, “Kid’s First Gardening” by Jenny Hendy includes step-by-step activities and crafts for kids ages 5 to 12, and “Gardening Lab for Kids” by Renata Fossen Brown offers more than 50 experiments related to gardening.
You also can introduce your kids to gardening on a larger scale by visiting food festivals and farms. Strawberry and blueberry farms are among operations that offer “you-pick” activities so that your family can harvest fruits and vegetables on-site together. Visit NC Farm Fresh to find a farm near you.
About the AuthorPamela A. Keene is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and avid gardener.
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