Gardening with kids has so many benefits. Everything from teaching them to eat better to helping them be more independent.
What’s the big deal about growing your own food? Our food supply in the United States is increasingly becoming unhealthier. Fast food and convenience foods are so processed and loaded with synthetic chemicals that groceries are more like a science experiment than a meal. We can shop for whole foods like meat, dairy, and produce for a healthier diet, right? With the increasing use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides even our fresh foods are becoming more polluted than ever before.
My name is Christina and I run Little Sprouts Learning Garden, a home daycare in Oklahoma. The more I learn about our food supply, the more careful I want to be about what I feed my daycare kids and my family. In small-town Oklahoma, organic food is hard to find, although it is more available than ever before. How can I KNOW what I’m feeding my kids is as synthetic chemical free as possible? By growing it myself.
Kids are 80% more likely to try foods that they helped grow, harvest, and prepare. The best way to encourage them to try a variety of healthy produce is by helping them grow it and teaching them to prepare it themselves. For the first 16 years of daycare, I tried to grow food with my kids. We had smothering weeds, inadequate light, poor soil, bug attacks, bad seeds, and innumerable big mistakes. But three years ago I got a call from my friend Claudia. She had gotten a flyer in the mail about a class about gardening with our daycare kids. She asked me if I wanted to go with her and I emphatically said YES! She signed us up and we learned the basics of gardening with kids.
Doug Walton was the teacher of the “gardening 101” portion of our class. The information he shared was life-changing. He went over every part of basic gardening. One thing I learned in the class is plants do not grow well in clay soil. The clay holds too much water and suffocates the roots of the plants. The soil in my yard has so much clay you can dig a shovel full of it and begin to sculpt. So the answer for us it was raised beds. The class provided one 3×10 raised bed for each daycare facility. When we got ours, we got to grow and finally found some successes.
One of my daycare parents built us a second raised bed and taught us how he built the simple frame. The second year, we built four more and added some other containers. The third year we talked to the owner of the field next to our house and he said we could grow whatever we wanted in it.
We were no longer bound by limited space, so we set out to expand. We wanted to keep the expansion small enough that we could still manage it. We did some research and drew up some plans and ended up with a 20 x 80 area that we planned to use. We needed a fence, beds, soil, seeds, plants, and some type of weed barrier.
We went door to door in our town to local businesses and people asking them to help us build this dream for the kids. People donated used chain link fencing, old privacy fence, landscape timbers and other used wood, seeds, money, advice, and labor. We built the outer fence and then began building raised beds from the privacy fence pieces. Next, we bought cedar planks to build the remaining beds. Then we got a load of garden soil and filled all the beds. The daycare families were instrumental in getting all of the materials in place.
Once we had most of the beds filled (several still remain empty as we ran out of funding, time, and energy), we let the kids plant a variety of seeds and plants that we had grown inside earlier in the season.
What have my Little Sprouts learned from this experience?
They are trying and enjoying a much wider variety of fresh produce than they were even at the beginning of this summer. When introducing a new food, I let them decide when they want to try it and if I like it, I let them know. I never pressure them to try anything. I just let nature take its course. Lots of healthy fresh foods are being eaten here that just a few years ago I would never have imagined kids even trying much less begging for.
They have also learned to prepare dishes they can recreate or ask for at home, which is teaching their families to like healthier foods. I even have some older kids creating recipes of their own with our homegrown produce.
I have children as young as 1 that can plant a seed or seedling properly all on their own with just a few words of guidance from me. I use their knuckles to tell them how many knuckles deep the seeds need to be. I show the youngest ones, and after that, they can do it. With this knowledge, we have the chance to save the beautiful art of gardening from dying with an older generation. There are fewer and fewer people that have the knowledge to produce food. Our future needs that knowledge.
They are learning about life cycles, metamorphosis, germination, botany, entomology, pollinators, caring for the earth, and so many things they could never be listed. This is knowledge this world needs!
The garden brings knowledge, closeness to nature, health, exercise, fresh air, and many other things. It’s a place where the world is at peace and makes sense. Some of my children have remarked that working in the garden is more fun than video games, and it keeps them out of trouble, is cool, yummy, fun, and smells good. These are just a small example of the benefits we receive from this magical place we call the garden.
My hope is sharing our garden with others will plant a seed in them. If you have the knowledge to grow your food, do it and teach it. If you don’t, seek it out and learn it. Gardening can change the world. It begins with a little sprout and it grows and grows…. Grow something today!
Need help planning your garden? Check out the free Grow Your Own Food workshop.