The children’s garden where they plant seeds and learn to grow
In our experience gardening with young children, isn’t as simple in practice as most people think. Yes it is fun, and yes there are many moments of wonder and discovery. But gardening with a group of young children, many who would rather be playing than following careful instructions is seldom as calm, or controlled as most of us would like. It’s about seeds being scattered in clumps and piles, about too much water being poured on one spot, and next to no water on another spot. It’s about plants being dug up to see the other end or cherry tomatoes pulled off the vine and squished or thrown for fun.
Gardening with children is like most sensory experiences with 3’s and 4’s. It’s messy, it’s chaotic, instruction goes out the window, and you just hope something is getting through.
The amazing thing is something always does. They remember the days they picked string beans and dipped them in salad dressing, or picked the cucumbers and made pickles, or used their tomatoes to make a sauce. They remember they cooked something inside that they grew outside. They make the connection that the food we eat starts in the soil.
They do not make neat rows. They do not tenderly care for each plant, they water the leaves and flower petals rather than the roots. For most children gardening is just another form of play: there’s dirt, there’s water, there’s tools, and on hot days they get hosed down. But like all play there is learning going on, beneath the surface, just out of sight. It occurs without the children even knowing it.
Gardening is unpredictable, frustrating and yet quite often a delight. Just as we cannot control the weather, or know in advance what seeds will thrive, or what city animals might want a little snack, we cannot force children to sit on the sidelines and simply watch and expect them to care. They need to work in the garden, touching, tasting, in order to experience the absolute wonder of life springing from what seems like nothing, a life we helped nourish. That in turn will nourish us.
At a time when more and more children are disconnected from nature, at a time when they are indoors more than out, a garden is a place where children and nature thrive. Our job as teachers, as parents is to help plant the seeds and then step back and watch them grow.