Nothing tastes better than food fresh from the garden, especially when it’s grown and harvested by your own proud kids. Now is the time when summer’s bounty is reaching its peak. If you have a garden, you probably already know that little hands make the best weed pullers. And collecting the first peas, beans, and radishes of the season can make for enthusiastic, productive fun (with a delicious end result!). Kids of all ages can help with these tasks as well as watering, thinning seedlings, and as is the case with my preschooler, ensuring any found backyard earthworms or ladybugs are swiftly transferred to the garden to perform their “good bug” duties.
Some easy edibles for kids to grow in our planting zone (zone 6-7) are peas, beans, carrots, tomatoes, sunflowers, pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers. While it is a little late in the season to start most of these in a home garden, you can still use pots to grow an impressive array of herbs, peppers, and lettuces that, with proper care, will keep producing through the cooler months of fall. Sites like kidsgardening.org and eartheasy.com have some great suggestions for age-appropriate gardening projects, as well as a wealth of other information on gardening with children.
In addition to providing your family with food, nurturing a plant from seed to table teaches kids about the life cycle of plants and how they interact with their environment. “Children enjoy the whole process of gardening,” says Rey Ann Garcia-Mills, owner of the Montessori Centre in Barrington, where gardening is a popular part of the curriculum. “They like experiencing everything from preparing the soil to interacting with the insects and animals that visit the garden.” Whether started indoors and transplanted to a garden or sown directly into the soil, seeds undergo an amazing metamorphosis that should impress even the most jaded pre-teen video game junkie. Gardening can also foster an interest in cooking, as you and your kids discover new and creative ways to serve your harvest. Tomato ice cream, anyone?
Gardening connects children to their food in a way that can be challenging when shopping in today’s mega-mart grocery stores, which are filled with processed, artificially flavored and colored options. Rhode Island has a wealth of road-side produce stands, Farmers’ Markets, U-Pick berry farms, and other great places to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Allow kids to learn where food really comes from and encourage them to be involved in the growing process and they just may grow up to be lifelong healthy eaters.
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert (ages 2-5)
Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole (ages 3-9)
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett (ages 9-12)
Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy (all ages)
Nature/Nurture, written by Michelle Riggen-Ransom, is a twice-monthly column with ideas and information to help kids and their families engage with the natural world in fun, interesting ways. Share your thoughts and explorations by adding your comment below, or contact us with your story ideas.