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Veggies For The Fun of It: 10 Tips for a Successful Urban Garden Program for Kids
My goal in working with children’s gardening programs is to open their eyes to a world in the outdoor classroom space that is filled with flowers and try to make the experience an event they will remember long time.
When working with an urban gardening program for school-aged children, it is important to understand what will make a successful vegetable gardening program for children. First, realize that a child’s gardening goals are different from an adult’s. Middle and high school gardening programs differ from those for young children in the methods and programs presented. The main goal of children in gardening is discovery and experimentation. In other words, they don’t measure success by the quantity or quality of a harvest; it is the reward of the experience of the process. Children will use their five senses to explore and discover the garden. Vegetable gardening for kids will not only stimulate their senses, but establish a lifelong connection to nature, healthier choices, and respect for our environment. Children are curious about the wonders of nature; they like to learn by doing and will love playing in a garden space designed for them. A child-friendly gardening program should be introduced and planned as a fun learning activity surrounded by a world of discovery. Whether you’re working with one child or a dozen, you’ll find these tips helpful for customizing your gardening schedule.
As mentioned earlier, children’s interest in gardening is different from that of adults. Adult vegetable gardening aspirations are grouped into three categories, all based on how “green thumb factor” they are; a sustainable source of fresh produce, the economic factor, health and organic nutrition. These three goals can be incorporated into a curriculum for a balanced children’s gardening program. When presenting a gardening program, it works best when presented as “teaching moments”.
- Set goals to form this club of young gardeners. What do you hope to accomplish in this gardening situation? Will it be a place for quiet meditation, science education, a farmers market, or a place for healthy eating? Knowledge will guide you in deciding what type of garden environment to create, such as native, heirloom, organic, herbal, or display.
- Trust the experts. Borrow gardening rules, tips and techniques from a successful community gardening program in your area. The most successful community type gardens are supported by a group of committed people. This is the time to gather a group of like-minded teachers and helpers from your circle of influence. Local master gardeners, agricultural offices, botanic and organic garden organizations and nurseries can provide advice and support.
- Give the children their own garden space for the principle of ownership. This will give children a sense of “ownership” of a familiar space and encourage commitment and responsibility to the gardening project. Whether you use raised beds, repurposed containers or traditional ground, be sure to give kids their own separate garden space and encourage them to get their hands dirty.
- Make the garden appealing to the senses, colorful flowers add to the visual; aromatic crops that please the nose as well as products that can be consumed off the vine. Choose a variety of vegetable plants that are well suited to your region and growing season. It would also be nice to include some edible flowers for color and herbs for fragrance. Children will be fascinated by the different shapes and textures. To get you started, plant easy-to-grow vegetables like cucumbers, collards, zucchini, leaf lettuce, beans, peas, summer squash, peppers, and Swiss chard.
- Set young gardeners up for success with the best soil and light conditions available. This is part of the planning strategy. In urban settings, it is common to find difficult situations such as poor ground conditions; polluting, gardening in irregularly shaped areas surrounded by asphalt or cement. Remember that most vegetable gardens require at least six to eight hours of sunlight per day. It is also useful to have easy access to water. Don’t be discouraged if your garden site has too many obstacles, it may be a sign that you should consider container gardening.
- Start the garden from seed. Children will learn more as they watch the growth process begin. It is an important part of the discovery process; they will notice the root system and make their own observations of plant development and life cycles. Care in seed germination and nurturing of seedlings is a valuable part of the gardening experience. Additionally, the seeds will develop into healthier plants if started indoors in a warm room. Once the true leaves have sprouted, they can be transplanted into the garden bed depending on the growing season.
- You may need to help “behind the scenes, “cheat a little”. They don’t have to know about every little problem you’ve fixed. You may need to go outside before or after the program session to pick slugs and insects off the vegetables. Patrol regularly for pests, but don’t use pesticides. Children should not be exposed to toxins. Instead, take out bugs by blasting them with water. Change a few plants that have been badly damaged due to mishandling; replace seeds in beds that have been planted incorrectly. Children feel a sense of belonging to the plot is the main thing. A good result in gardening based solely on the efforts of the children is secondary.
- Use the time wisely. Set a start and end time for sessions. Change up the activity to keep kids excited about going to the garden. Garden time for children should be in the cool of the day. Include garden-themed activities, games, and craft time in your schedule. Keep in mind that children may not be ready for all tasks in the garden at all times. Not all children may enjoy all gardening tasks. Some will not enjoy the process of planting them outdoors in the dirt, even those who may be scared of insects. Incorporating garden-themed activities will give your kids much-needed variety. This will ensure that children will look forward to future sessions and have a positive impact on behavior
- Gardening tools and equipment are a necessity. When you provide tools to children, you recognize the importance of the work they do. Also in the category of gardening tools, there are many kitchen items that can be repurposed for gardening. Hard plastic kitchen utensils make great gardening tools; they can be used as a shovel or a spade. We use drinking water bottles for watering containers. If necessary, let them use your hand tools under close supervision. The uses of cheap plastic garden tools are worse than no tools at all; they break easily and will discourage any user.
- Involve them throughout the process, from seed to table. The garden is a place of educational moments with the children. Children learn best when they understand the context of their activity. They will learn that gardening is a fun activity, a place to make friends, and a place where they contribute to the community. Gardening gives children a chance to learn an important life skill that is neglected in standard school curricula. Gardening is also a great way to teach environmental awareness by exploring the workings of nature. Environmental Science Plant life cycles and seed germination are easily taught in the outdoor classroom. The same goes for math, creative writing, reading, social studies, nutrition, observation, and fine arts. In addition to planting and tending their beds, make sure they are actively involved in harvesting and preparing their vegetables for the table, no matter how modest the crop yields.
A children’s vegetable garden will open their minds to a “world class” learning experience about plants and flowers.
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