Your children need you! Join Michelle Obama as she calls upon kids to adopt a healthier lifestyle. It’s time to get our youngsters out of the cafeteria and into the garden–their school garden.
From aphids to zinnias, beets to watermelon, children can gain a wealth of valuable knowledge from participating in a garden, but they need guidance. And who better to guide them than you?
“A garden? Are you serious? I don’t have time for that!”
Ah…but you do. You just don’t know it–yet. Gardens don’t have to be time-consuming. Nor do they have to be stressful. I mean, where in the garden manual does it say you must sacrifice every ounce of your free time and sanity for the sake of growing vegetables?
It doesn’t. Vegetable gardens can be successfully managed with minimal time, so long as you have a plan. I learned this tidbit of wisdom from my kids, not to mention the demands of real life, my husband, etc. Like many of you, the last thing I have time for is a garden, but when the rewards are so great, and the lure is strong…
It’s tempting. So tempting, I started my home garden on a whim and desire and haven’t looked back since–it’s been that rewarding. Even my kids help! (Now that I’ve learned to manage the load.) Trust me. Weeding, watering, pruning and picking doesn’t have to be hard. When you plan your schedule around the natural cycle of life, you don’t have to fight it. Instead, you focus on the important things, like seed selection, plant feeding, bug plucking, picture-taking and harvest. That’s really all the kids care about, anyway.
And care they do. They LOVE being out in the garden! So long as you make it fun and keep it interesting, they’re good to go. For example, weeding takes strong hands. “Who here has strong muscles?”
Hands fly up. “I do! I do!”
“Good. I need some weed warriors to attack this zone and rid the area of weeds.” Children swarm the area with incredible speed, pull with unbelievable precision. Reminds me of Star Wars.
“Who knows a plant’s favorite food?”
“Worm poop!” I exclaim.
Eyes light up, expressions explode with delight. Now we’re talking. “Okay, who wants to feed the plants?”
Hands fly up. “I do! I do!”
“Who knows how do dig?” I do! I do! “Who can work like a bulldozer and grade the surface smooth?” I can! I can! “Who can build a moat around their seeds to keep the water close?” Me! Me!
You get the picture. Kids love to garden. With the right lingo and a little direction, they are all over it. All you have to do is sit back and snap away. Photos, that is. You’ll want to document every wonderful moment. Especially when they find the unexpected earthworm, or the unwelcome hornworm. It’s all in the discovery.
But schools are strapped for cash. Who pays for all this wonder and lesson?
It’s true, someone has to buy the seeds and choose a location. Someone has to set the schedule and build a curriculum. And someone has to show up to supervise. As garden coordinator for our school, I give about two hours of my time per week. That’s it. This involves about 3 classes, 3 different ages. (Yes, we’re a small school.) But the math works for the same; when you add classes, you add volunteers.
Don’t know where to begin? No problem. There are a plethora of resources to choose from, both locally and nationally. Where I live, the University of Florida agricultural department encourages school gardens and provides an amazing amount of information to get your school garden started. They’ve also come up with an ingenious motivator in the form of a school garden competition. What kid wouldn’t want to have the best and brightest blooms?
An abundance of private organizations exist as well, like The Edible Schoolyard out in California founded by Chef Alice Waters, Kids Gardening! located up in Vermont and Lifelab (also out in California), just to name a few. Funding an issue?
Try the National Gardening Association’s website for ideas. Also, check with your local seed and feed store for some help with donations in exchange for a little blurb in your school newsletter and/or website. The cost to them will be minimal yet the exposure they’ll reap will be exponential. If you’re building raised beds instead of in ground, consult with your local hardware/lumber store for some help. Connecting the community and children is a win-win for all involved.
From an education aspect, these gardens can become part of the actual curriculum (Kids Gardening! provides a ton of tools for teachers), or they can simply be part of a volunteer effort. Either way, the kids will thank you. One need only glance at a few of our school garden photos to see the pleasure the kids derive from being outside, steeped in the glory of nature. In fact, pass them around at your next PTA meeting and you’ll see the hands fly up. “Who wants to help with our school garden?” I do! I do!
And we haven’t even discussed the harvest party! When kids actually “reap what they’ve sown,” it connects the dots between planting and harvest like nothing else. Every weed they pulled, every seed they buried, every sprout they watered culminates into the most delicious food they’ve ever tasted. Add the fact it presents the perfect opportunity to demonstrate healthy eating choices, ie. oven-baked French fries, homemade (baked) potato chips, salsa, coleslaw, fruit smoothies to name a few, and you have the perfect combination–and a captive audience.
Gardening is all what you make of it. Exciting and fun or dreary and doldrums, it’s up to you. To help you get started, you can find a few lessons in the Kid Buzz section of this website. For more information, check these suggestions from About.com homeschooling. Above all else, keep in mind the kids don’t care how fancy a garden you design, they only care about getting involved in the process. Start with what you can afford, what you can manage time wise and the rest will follow. Remember: elbow grease is free yet the payoff is priceless.
Share this link and let’s get something wonderful started. Gardening is an adventure–share it with a child!