In Minibury’s “Our Favorite Things” column, Faith Gong – Addison County resident, mother of four daughters, wife of one assistant professor, dog wrangler, writer of the “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent and The Pickle Patch blog – shares some of her family’s favorite things. The goal is to highlight items or activities that are simple, inexpensive, local, and promote creativity. Faith receives no kickbacks, compensation, or thanks for any items mentioned here!
During our recent spring break, my family spent most of our free time outside in the yard, gardening. I weeded and dug and hauled, my husband built and drilled and hauled, and our daughters alternately “helped” and romped.
The miracle is: We actually got things done.
Up until about a year ago, if you’d suggested that I could do much of anything – let alone garden – without being interrupted every two minutes by screams announcing a need or an injury or a fight, I’d have laughed in your face. But this year we seem to have arrived: We’re not the picture of perfect familial bliss out in our yard, but we’ve reached the point at which I can work uninterrupted for at least 15 minutes.
Age has a lot to do with this, of course; the older the children, the more capable they are of amusing themselves. So, if you long to get dirt under your fingernails and seeds in the ground but your children are still in infancy or toddlerhood, hang in there and it WILL get easier!
During my nine years of parenting, I’ve also learned that the key to getting children outside, engaged, and respectful of the work involved in gardening is to capture their interest in dirt, seeds, and plants at an early age. Here are a few of my favorite methods for raising junior gardeners – or at least children who will amuse themselves while I garden!
- READ. So much of parenting begins with good books! A few of our family’s favorite picture books about gardening are Up, Down, & Around by Katherine Ayres, And the Good Brown Earth by Kathy Henderson, and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner. An inspiring biography geared towards elementary children is Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. My very favorite hands-on gardening book for children, filled with fascinating information about plants and fun garden plans, is Roots, Shoots, Buckets, & Boots by Sharon Lovejoy. Many of these books – and more! – are available at Ilsley Public Library.
- START SEEDS IN BAGGIES. A fun and easy way to sprout seeds is to start them in a plastic baggie. Simply place seeds and a wet paper towel inside a Ziploc baggie, and tape the baggie to a window. The seeds will start to germinate within a few days, and kids can clearly see the roots and shoots develop. (Transplant in actual dirt once they look sprout-y enough!)
- PAINT YOUR OWN POT. My daughters have never been more interested in seeds than when they planted seeds in pots they painted themselves. I gave each girl a terra cotta pot, a brush, and some acrylic paint. They personalized their pot (outside – the paint’s not washable!), filled it with soil, planted their seeds, and felt a huge sense of ownership over their personal pot. Painted pots are prettier than plain ones, too!
- VISIT A LOCAL FARM AND/OR JOIN A CSA. For most of their lives, my daughters have spent summer months visiting a local farm once a week when we go pick up our CSA order. This experience has given them a sense of respect for the work involved in farming, a comfort with farms and farmers, and a vision of the beautiful and delicious produce that results from good farming (which is not always what results from our own gardening efforts!) It’s also a rich experience of community, as they see adults and children we know from all walks of life also arriving to pick up their vegetables. To find a CSA farm nearest you, visit localharvest.org, which has a nifty search tool.
- MAKE YOUR OUTDOORS A FUN PLACE TO BE, AND OFFER CHANCES FOR CHILDREN TO GARDEN THEMSELVES. Children learn by example, so one of the best ways to get children interested in gardening is for them to see you garden. To do that, they have to get outdoors. And I don’t know about you, but if our outdoor landscape wasn’t appealing, my children would likely opt to stay inside with their books and Legos. A fun outdoors has the added benefit of providing children with things to do other than bother you! Here are a few small things we’ve added to our yard to make it a place where our children enjoy hanging out:
- A fire pit (just a circle of large stones on the ground, with some wood in the middle and lawn chairs around the edges.)
- A hammock.
- A sandbox (a square frame of pressure treated wood with some play sand dumped in the middle, and assorted digging toys.)
- A small, child-sized picnic table picked up at a yard sale.
- A junky plastic play kitchen, another yard sale find, which we put in our shed.
- And the highlight of any child’s summer: A kiddie pool!
Things like bikes, balls, a wagon, sidewalk chalk, and bubbles are great, too, but those are the essentials that I’ve found will keep my children happy for hours out-of-doors.
The process of getting children to be independent outdoors, and then moving them towards gardening themselves, may take a while — several seasons, even. Don’t give up! If they see you enjoying yourself in the yard and garden, they’ll play attention. Now that they’ve seen me working outside for a few years, my children are beginning to take interest in gardening on their own. This year, one of my daughters worked with her grandfather to build four small raised beds in which they’ll plant and tend seeds of their choosing.
I hope these tips will help fellow frustrated gardening parents, and result in some happy young gardeners!