Last night, my uncle and his wife brought the last of the green beans from the garden into my grandfather’s garage for us to snap. They had my little girl in tow. My uncle’s wife said, “Well, she may not eat her dinner; she just ate a ton of tomatoes and green beans!” It was every parent’s dream: your child is too full of fresh vegetables to eat whatever else will come next.
Involving children in gardening has many advantages. Year-round, whenever we eat a meal that involves corn, my little girl is quick to ask, “Now, is this Pappaw’s corn?” If it is, she gobbles it up as quickly as I dish it out.
Just like it happened last night, when I harvest vegetables in my own garden, my little one eats half of what we pick before we get it in the house! Peas, green beans, and tomatoes are some of the best raw vegetables for kids to snack on straight from the garden. Not only does it help them feel excited to eat vegetables, but gardening together can also be a wonderful way for a family to bond as they work together.
In my garden at home this year, we all played a role in the potato “crop”. I dug the trench; my little girl planted potatoes along it; we both covered them up; and just a few weeks ago, my husband dug up our potato harvest for the year. We have been enjoying fried, mashed, and baked potatoes for weeks now. Nothing can beat a home grown potato.
Kids who are as young as three can be really helpful in the garden if you give them age-appropriate tasks. Even if they are too young to “snap” the green beans, they can at least snap off the ends. If they are old enough to recognize differences in color, they may be old enough to help pick small tomatoes. You can help children who are slightly older to recognize weeds and pull them. And, if nothing else, little ones can play in the sprinkler whenever you need to water the garden.
In the winter months, kids can have fun looking through seed catalogs with you—the pictures are so beautiful that even very little ones will enjoy it. Older kids can start their own seeds indoors and tend them. And once spring comes around again, kids who are old enough can even be given their own small plot or raised bed to plant and tend. Giving kids lots of choices and responsibility will help family gardening seem like an adventure instead of a chore.
Ultimately, I don’t believe in forced labor! I hope my kids will grow up to love gardening and value it as highly as I do. The surest way to kill that dream, though, would be for me to force our kids into spending long, hot hours of hard work in the garden against their wills. In the mean time, our almost-four-year-old is enjoying her time in the garden, and I’m thrilled about it.