by Charlene Burgi
Do you recall your childhood winters? Long dreary days of rain, cold, wet, or perhaps even snow (depending where you grew up) that prevented the activity needed to expend pent-up energy? In the age of computers, the boredom may not be as apparent, but it still runs rampant. Let's face it, computer games are a draw when outdoor activities are limited by storms that follow one after the other.
These thoughts pervaded me as I watched the weather report about yet another series of storms coming from the Pacific Ocean. I also thought about my grandchildren of varying ages who have recently expressed interest in gardening. What project can stimulate the mind of a child who is interested in planting a garden, even when rain prevents them from getting their hands dirty outside?
As gardeners, we can find activities to stimulate a child's creative mind and even use tools they are familiar with—like a good garden website where a child can explore and design a garden. Add a few good seed catalogs to enhance the experience and the warm spring days won't seem so distant in their eyes. Plus, the beauty of the design process is that it leads naturally into the next step—starting some seeds indoors for bringing the design to life in the garden at a later date.
First, have the children decide what vegetables or fruit they like to eat. Their answers provide the focus for which seeds they should plant. Start by directing them toward seeds that are easy to germinate. With young children, it is best to start them off with bigger seeds such as sunflowers, nasturtium, radishes, and squash. Older children may enjoy the intricacy of working with tiny seeds of strawberries, celery, lettuce, tomatoes, or poppies.
Along with planting, direct their learning process toward the importance of healthy soil and the effect organic fertilizers play in sustaining a healthy garden. Perhaps invest in some red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida
) and watch as these worms produce worm castings—an organic fertilizer. This leads to the fun of making compost tea about the time the new seedlings emerge and are ready for their first feeding.
The cycle of growing plants that feed the worms that, in turn, feed the plants adds another dimension to gardening. It also teaches children about composting their garbage as food for the worms. Eating healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables is even more appealing when you get to share the remnants with the worms! The bonus of raising red wiggler worms is that they require little care and make no noise. To enhance the indoor activity idea, worms will live happily in the confines of their worm farm located in a garage or laundry room.
| Granddaughter Justine and daughter Lynette in the garden
The value in these activities will carry your child, grandchild, or neighbor child far into the future. I am a firm believer that children exposed to gardening at an early age tend to immerse themselves in learning more about gardening as they grow up. While the survey size was extremely limited, I found it interesting that the majority of the people going through the Master Gardener program with me last year developed a passion for gardening in their childhood with a favorite family member or friend.
Are you open to teaching a young person about gardening? The investment is small but the rewards are compounded tenfold in the future as these young gardeners find avenues for sustainability, healthy living, and controlling their own healthy food supply. And there is nothing more precious than witnessing the pride of a child holding up their homegrown produce or bouquet of flowers.