Whether digging in the soil, composting food waste, planting seeds in wet paper towels or growing herbs in a window box, gardening can be a fun and worthwhile activity for the whole family.
Contributed by Linda Whitehead, Ph.D.
Playing or working in a garden stimulates all five senses and helps children learn new skills, develop self-confidence, socialize and become nurturers.
Gardening requires team work — and lots of it! Assign each member of the family a certain job to maintain your garden. These tasks might include planting new seeds, watering and picking the vegetables and flowers, etc. Each week, rotate jobs across your family members so everyone becomes familiar with the different jobs associated with maintaining your garden.
Container gardens are a great way to slowly transform any area (especially small yards and city patios) into a garden space. Almost anything your family uses can be used as a container: Coffee cans, milk jugs, egg cartons, yogurt containers and even old shoes! Before adding soil, seeds and flowers, poke a few holes in the bottom of the container, add a few rocks for drainage and ensure the container is placed in a spot where it’s gets adequate sunlight.
Gardens are open-ended learning laboratories — for the whole family. Since children are innate scientists and love to experience the sights, scents, sounds and textures of the outdoors, get creative with your garden and experiment by planting different vegetables and plants. Be willing to put up with a less-than-perfect looking garden — if a certain veggie doesn’t grow or a flower doesn’t bloom, at least it was a learning experience and you and your family can explore other options.
Planting a garden can also get your family’s creative juices flowing. Instead of buying expensive bags of soil, consider recycling and reusing your coffee grounds and tea bags in your garden — these two items will prove to add acid to the soil and help maintain the pH balance. You can also use old spoons and milk containers as shovels.
If you and your family can’t decide what to plant in your garden, turn to your shopping lists and grocery receipts. For example, if you’re spending $15 per week on fresh herbs like parsley, thyme and rosemary, it might be a smart decision to cultivate these herbs in your garden. You can spend $15-$20 on seeds for these herb plants that will last you all summer long. Tomato plants are also a wise (and delicious!) garden investment.
With the whole family, take time to research yummy recipes that require ingredients you’re growing in the garden. If you’re growing eggplant, perhaps plan on making an eggplant casserole for dinner. Or if you’re growing fruits like strawberries and blueberries, a large fruit salad it an excellent and refreshing dessert during the summer months.
If other families in your neighborhood or apartment complex have also planted a garden, consider setting up a night where everyone brings fruits and veggies that they have grown and then, swap away! For example, swap a container of the beautiful cherry tomatoes you grew in your garden for five cucumbers your neighbor grew in hers. By swapping, you and your family can try new summer recipes too!
About the author:
Linda Whitehead is the Vice President of Education and Development for Bright Horizons Family Solutions. She has been with Bright Horizons for over 20 years. Linda holds a B.S. in Child Development, an M.S. in Life Span Development, and a Ph.D. in Family Studies. She has more than 35 years of experience in the early childhood field and is currently serving a three-year appointment on NAEYC’s Accreditation Council which oversees their national accreditation system.
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