Rewards of Gardening With Children --Though Now What?
If you work with children or you have children at home, many times planting green beans and sunflowers is a gardening activity that stops before reaching harvest. Children, parents, or leaders then sometimes think once the garden is planted, “Now what?” Some youth continue with their garden projects that can provide nutritious vegetables and opportunities for family time. But other leaders/parents are left caring for gardens alone as children finish some other planned program or lose interest just as harvest is beginning.
Finding or creating the right activities for a garden project may be the key to keeping kids involved and excited. Remember to calculate in the time for swimming lessons, camps, and vacations. Summer is over quickly and school is ready to begin before you know it. As the adult, be sure to consider your personal time. It is frustrating to try and balance your own commitments with a project that might be more time consuming than originally estimated.
Analyzing the age group you are working with, whether toddler or teen, is a key to success. Questions to ponder include: what are the children’s attention spans? And, for older children, what is their realistic commitment time?
Finding the interest level is another key component. I am speaking from seven years experience working with over 200 K-12 students through the 21st Century Community Learning Center program in the Grand Coulee area and with 4-Hers in Douglas County. For instance, 10-year-old Johnny may be very helpful building planters, planting vegetables, and eating the product. However, his interest in watering, weeding, and preserving may not be there at all. Involving him in small ways in activities that he is not as interested in will have better results if you don’t insist that he perform daily care. Perhaps he can always make sure the watering cans are full, watch for pests on the plants, and identify those pests. Providing support and encouragement may go a long way to getting positive results.
Have teens? Food! It’s an amazing motivator, but you probably already knew that. When it is time to amend soil, plant, water, cultivate and harvest, most teens like to work in groups. Socializing is key to teens, while being in the garden can provide great snacks at the end of the day! Again, the key here is determining interest. Some teens may be interested in historical or cultural plantings or creating projects with flowers. Others may be focused on soil testing, preserving food, entering items in County Fairs, donating to the local Food Bank or cooking. Focusing on gardens is a great way for high school seniors to perform community service. It might include planning a field trip to a Farmers Market or a large farm for a broader perspective. From the (volunteer) educator’s standpoint, keep the work time short, and, once again, end the activity with a great snack. Green beans cooked three different ways was one of the most well-received snacks that I ever provided. Who knew?
This information is really an invitation to visit and really explore JMGKids, the Online Junior Master Gardener Program. This is a certified program with curriculum that leads to a Junior Master Gardener certificate. The site is also student interactive with recipes, gardening and composting tips, a wildlife program and one of my favorites, Literature in the Garden. Teacher and Student Guides are available in the Online Store area as well as many other items.
The project I was involved with last year was Creating a Back Yard Habitat for 3rd and 4th grade 4-H members. The projects included inviting beneficial insects or animals into your yard. Toads were the favorite!
(This article is prepublished with permission from “GROUNDED”, a quarterly publication of WSUE Grant/Adams Master Gardeners.)