Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. Words famously penned by author Robert Louis Stevenson resonate metaphorically, but a literal interpretation is equally true. And, as soft spring blooms unfold into summer sunshine, examples increasingly abound. To see them, look only to the gardens, and see the ways those who tend them flourish.
Gardening is renowned for countless benefits, from easing stress and lifting mood to increasing physical activity and much, much more. Sharing gardening with children means enjoying all these health and wellness benefits, together. It’s also an invaluable opportunity for learning engagement, imparting wisdom in areas of nature and science, environmental stewardship, and food journeys, to name a few.
“Gardening with kids is so amazing,” says Megan Reynoso, program manager at Growing Gardens, a beloved Boulder non-profit whose mission is to enrich community through sustainable urban agriculture and education programming. “Through gardening, children get to learn where their food comes from and how it grows into what they are familiar seeing in the grocery store. When a student comes to the garden and learns that carrots grow underground, and they have an opportunity to pick up a carrot, wash it off, and take a bite, it’s magical. They have a spark in their eye from learning something new, plus a new appreciation for their food and where it comes from.”
At Growing Gardens, summer camps offer students ages 5 to 11 the opportunity to tend gardens, explore through art and science, and enjoy making tasty snacks from harvest bounties. Such special experiences are impactful in the moment, and for a lifetime. The best part is, the sparkle they inspire can be cultivated in your own backyard. Here, Reynoso and team share tips on how to make the most of your garden, for your family.
Kids are constantly observing and learning from the world around them, Reynoso says, making the garden a perfect place to learn basic gardening skills, but also to connect with the environment and explore new things using the senses. Before jumping in, Reynoso recommends setting some basic safety boundaries and gather tools appropriate to the ages of the participants. Other than that, get excited about learning and exploring together. “A garden is a special place because it’s one where you can get muddy, dirty, rip things out, and do things students don’t regularly get to do in the classroom,” she says.
For younger children
A great way to approach learning through gardening with younger children is focus on the very basic needs of a plant, Reynoso says. “A plant needs water, air, soil, sunlight, space, and love,” she says. “This is easily grasped by younger students. When we learn about the importance of soil, we also get to use our hands and explore our vermicomposting system – worms.”
Breaking down gardening to the basics and keeping it very hands-on allows it to be accessible to all ages, Reynoso explains. Preschoolers – as well as gardeners of all ages – will love sprouting potatoes, shelling beans, painting with plant parts, and smelling herbs. Gardens further offer perfect opportunity to reinforce learning for elementary students, extending popular children’s literature like Stone Soup or Planting a Rainbow, sorting seeds, labeling plots, and making plans for the yields. The ‘teachable moments’ and project potential is limitless.
For older students
“When working with older students, it’s easy to provide the basics and then continue to add more and more details, vocabulary, and learning,” Reynoso says.
“There’s so much to explore and learn about plants, their needs, insects, soil, biodiversity and so much more! There is always more to learn with gardening.” Older students can handle more responsibility, drawing up plans, researching plants, and perhaps starting a garden bed of their own or offering service to the community. If space is short, container gardening offers the joy of planning and ownership within a confined area.
In addition to intellectual learning, students will increasingly benefit from the activity outdoors as well. “Physically working in a garden can be hard work!” Reynoso says. “You’re outside, pulling weeds, watering plants, turning over soil. This is a great way for students to move their bodies and get outdoors in the sunlight.”
Whether you’re five or 95, a garden does a body (and mind) good. Nurturing a garden encourages patience, mindfulness, connection with and appreciation for nature, responsibility and care. Sharing these connections as a family – what could be better? “There is a connection between digging in the dirt and happiness,” Reynoso says. “Gardening and taking care of plants is great for learning and physical health – and for your emotional wellbeing, too.”
Growing Gardens host a variety of summer camps and school day off classes throughout the year! Visit their website at growinggardens.org to learn more.
By Wendy McMillan, Raised in the Rockies