Gardening is an activity that has much to offer to children. It provides healthy exercise, a deeper understanding of the natural world and how it functions, exposure to the concepts of ecological stewardship and the importance of conservation, an opportunity to formulate a realistic personal goal and carry it through completion, and the chance for the entire family to participate in a pleasurable, productive activity. The skills, knowledge and personal growth that a child can achieved through gardening may benefit them for a lifetime.
Some Basic Tips for Gardeners Working with Kids
As every parent knows, children are not simply small adults. Children and teens view and interact with the world around them differently than adults. When you work with children there are some simple techniques and approaches you can use to make the gardening experience as rewarding and entertaining as possible for both the child and the adult. The following tips for gardening with children come from the American Community Gardening Association.
- A picture is worth a thousand words. Never tell kids something you could show them.
- Young kids have a very short attention span. Make sure that you have lots of options available so they can get started immediately and stay busy. Digging holes is one thing that seems to hold endless fascination.
- Instant gratification helps a lot. Plant radishes even if you don’t like them; they come up in three or four days.
- Growing their own will generally get kids to try eating things they otherwise wouldn’t walk into the same room with.
- GETTING DIRTY IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF GROWING UP!
- Your role should be as facilitator, rather than as a leader who imposes direction. Be a good role model.
- When giving out supplies to several kids, try to keep seeds, tools, etc. as similar as possible to avoid the inevitable squabbles.
- After an activity, do something to reinforce what everyone has learned. Talk about what went on, who did what, who saw what. If you can, have them write things down or draw pictures. If they’re too young, take dictation.
- Many kids who won’t talk in a large group will often speak easily in a small group.
- When working with older kids (past about 13), one-to-one works better than groups, since gardening (and anything else that could get you dirty) is a remarkably un-cool and disgusting way to spend time. Try to add responsibility and ownership to projects. (“Quincy is in charge of the wheelbarrow today.”) Try pairing up older kids with younger ones. Rest assured that if you give them a healthy respect for gardens and green things when they are young, it will stay with them throughout their lives.
Don’t Forget 4-H Youth Development!
4-H is more than just animal husbandry. In addition to Animal Sciences, 4-H offers programs and learning opportunities in Expressive Arts, Engineering and Technology, Family Living, Interdisciplinary, Environmental Stewardship, Plant Sciences, and Social Sciences. 4-H offers a wide variety of projects and activities, including workshops, conferences, camps, community service projects, and leadership development opportunities for both youth and adults at the local, district, state, national, and international levels.
Membership is open to youth in kindergarten through the 12th grade for most programs. Contact your local County Extension Office for more information on this superb youth organization.
The Junior Master Gardener. Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University. Information on the Junior Master Gardener Program for both kids and adults.
National Kids Gardening. The National Gardening Association (NGA). NGA is a nonprofit leader in plant-based education designed to foster an appreciation for the benefits of gardening. This site contains information on children’s gardening, classroom projects, grants, and garden-related links.
Gardening for Kids. Gardeninglaunchpad.com. An extensive list of links related to youth gardening.
Growing in the Garden. Iowa State University Extension. Gardening lesson plans for K-3 students.
Gardening Ideas for Children with Special Needs. Oregon State University Extension EM 8502. Tips for gardening with children who have physical, mental, social and emotional problems.
Agriculture in the Classroom. USDA. Educational resources and activities/information for kids.
Backyard Wildlife Habitat. Topics include feeding and attracting birds, butterflies, and other animals, and gardening with native plants.
Gardening Information for Teachers and Students. Howtodothings.com. Expert articles on gardening projects for the classroom.
4-H Youth Development
Grays Harbor County Extension 4-H. WSU Extension, Grays Harbor County. Information on the 4-H program in Grays Harbor County, Washington.
Pacific County Extension 4-H. WSU Extension, Pacific County. Information on the 4-H program in Pacific County, Washington.
WSU Extension 4-H Youth Development Program. Washington State University Extension. The statewide 4-H youth development website.
4-H Plant Sciences. WSU Extension, 4-H Publications and Projects. Plant Science publications and project materials.