Children as Gardeners
Many persons who enjoy gardening today learned to love it at the sides of gardening grandparents. Surely, there were some chores which seemed disagreeable at the time...the evil and omnipresent weeds! But there were also good times planting, watching over seedlings, seeing the plants reach maturity and then, if the garden were full of veggies, planning wonderful meals of just-picked food from the garden.
Today, there is a growing emphasis on family gardening with a special emphasis on teaching very young children to love being in the garden and to present information and experience that with good fortune and time will "grow" a new crop of gardeners.
"Easier said than done," is the response of many individuals and organizations who have labored and been frustrated when gardening programs for children failed to "take".
The Rapid City Garden Club sponsors a Children's Garden in their larger Educational Garden complex. For the last three years Garden Club member Cathy Robeson and Master Gardener and Garden Club member Mary Hercher have developed, participated in and supervised a children's gardening experience that may well be the model for successful gardening with children.
Is there a secret system to success in the garden? No, but there is some very careful planning...and this model can be "tweaked" by other groups who work with children. Let's examine the program parts:
1. The program has the sponsorship of the Rapid City Garden Club. This includes furnishing some, but not all of the funds.
2. The two chairman plan together and then divide tasks.
3. A partnership has been arranged with a nearby daycare to include the garden experience as part of the day care programming for the 5 year olds. Thus both the interest and attendance of the children is secured.
4. The emphasis is totally focused on HANDS ON GARDENING. That means, say the instructors, that little hands are in the soil, on the seeds, tools, plants and harvest. The children realize early on that they literally "have a hand " in the garden's success.
5. There is a teaching component to the program that is appropriate to the activity: books, gardening tools, magnifying glasses and other items are introduced and used by the group to enhance understanding.
6. Safety in the garden is emphasized. Child-sized gloves are provided (and at first it is fun to watch the children learn to be comfortable in gloves!) Children stop regularly for rest and a water break.
7. Every effort is made to create an environment where multi-generations are at work in the garden. Often additional members of the garden club come to work one-on-one with the children.
8. Meaningful fun and whimsey is very much part of the experience. The children plant different shaped beds, play amongst a forest of sunflowers and gather round the tepee.
9. There is always a story time with books that reinforce the lesson that day.
10. Harvest time is exciting. The children learn that every time produce is ripe and removed from the garden it is HARVEST!!! On one of the harvest days, the children and their families are invited to harvest and enjoy a party in the garden.
11. In summary...align with an established group (of gardeners and of children); combine activity with learning; extend the experience to the children's families (with invitations to special days, events);be certain the garden is the product of the children's hands;