Starting a Garden … with Kids

The great thing about kids is their endless supply of wonder and energy. The bad thing about kids is minimal attention span and a deep seeded desire to play.

Kids are fantastic about getting excited for anything with you. So, when we started off Green Team by weeding… they were pumped! They wholeheartedly listened to my speech on how we need to tend to what has been left behind before we can do anything more or new. They intently focused as I informed them on the importance of commitment to watering and tending to our garden.

And, I learned within the first few weeks to cut it down, from an hour, to half hour sessions- to always leave them wanting more.

And here is why those things are important to start this piece with… kids are horrible. Kids do not want to sit and diligently plant seeds, or read the packet as to how to plant them, or even care for them once the activity of playing in the dirt is over. Children do not want to sweep up the extra dirt or throw away the empty seed packets. But one thing is for certain in all this mess: letting kids learn their own dirty lessons will bring them knowledge, joy, and essential experiences.

Yes- they will do it wrong. Yes- they will make a mess. Let them. They’re enjoying every moment of it. Just let them pick what to plant and where to haphazardly throw it in the garden. Let them accidentally drown out a whole tray. Remind them again and again to read the seed pack about how to care for the plants, then watch them ignore you and let the packet fall forgotten onto the ground. Show them EXACTLY how to take blooming flowers out of a pot, nestle the roots into a new hole at appropriate depth, and water when finished. And after that, watch them yank it out by the stem and drop it into a half inch hole they’ve made. It is okay.

These are all lessons, and even if your thoughts begin to sway, remember that children very rarely get to make choices for themselves in such a dramatic way. Know that they appreciate the opportunity to have an experience and to watch growth happen before them because THEY created it and worked on it. Let them have ownership over their mistakes and triumphs- lessons often forgotten in a school setting only looking through the filter of behavior and grades.

The best gardeners, dancers, singers, workers, and artists: THOSE are the kids who can’t control their behavior, fail grades, and repeatedly are told they aren’t good enough. Let them plant a damn seed. Have them watch it grow and produce. Help them feel proud, worthy, and powerful. And remind them of their brain- call the activities science experiments. Stick a wet paper towel and some beans in a Ziploc baggie and tape it to a window. Just do it. They will love it. No matter the age or attention span. Wait a few days, then watch their eyes shine as they discover sprouts in their bag.

Kids need life lessons. Education teaches them from the textbook, but children (especially those I work with in impoverished neighborhoods) need varied experiences to get a step up in life. Children need to know about botany, environmental respect, patience, reading instructions, sharing, working together, commitment, philanthropy, the sweat of carrying water and soil, and how to care about listening to another person speaking.

Let them make a mess. It will take you a few minutes to sweep up. They will love the experience and just the smallest amount of true education will have occurred.


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