We try to plant a small garden every year so the children can spend time outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Also, so that they may receive the wonderful benefits of useful manual labor. Apparently, the frontal lobe improves as we use our hands to do something productive, as we manipulate tools and build things or rake, hoe and weed etc. It’s been documented by brain researchers.
Gardening teaches many skills. Children are naturally impatient and growing a garden takes some patience. Caring for something outside of yourself also teaches children responsibility. Having to water even when you don’t feel like it helps children mature and build habits of usefulness, of choosing duty over moods.
As they learn to protect their garden from rabbits and other animals or insects, they see the entitlement mentality at work. “Oh, the humans have planted juicy lettuce! Let’s go eat it!” We have fun putting words into the mouths of animals and insects, but I also show them how it is not fair for people who do not work to claim what does not belong to them. If you do not work, you should not eat, says the Bible.
Last but not least, gardening teaches children about how hard food gets produced in the real world. Farmers are heroes in my book. My mother grew up on a farm and this was in Communist Romania in the 50s and 60s – not much in the way of mechanized tools. She has always told me stories about how difficult it was to hoe an entire row in the vineyard or to harvest corn by hand. I do not take food for granted because of her stories.
My children love working outside in the garden – for now. The day will come when they will be bored by it – about three weeks from now, if not sooner. When that day comes, I will have to remind them of the fruit of their labor, which we will consume in another three weeks after that. They need to work and look forward to their glorious results.
Gardening for me is more about teaching character than about saving money by raising our own crops. We do not plant enough to save money on groceries. We plant just enough to let the kids play in the dirt and get some veggies they can be proud of – that’s about it.
This year, they have their own garden. Besides some random pots, where I grow things like basil, cilantro, and mint for the kitchen, we have a 4’x12′ plot which we have divided in two. The left side belongs to my daughter, because she is left handed. The right side belongs to my son, because he is right handed. They came up with this division themselves.
We went to Lowe’s and picked up some plants – whatever they wanted, plus flowers to help with pollination. Then we planted them and watered them. It was fun and the fun will continue through the summer and fall months.