It’s wonderful to see kids develop new interests and hobbies. It’s even better when their interests are healthy for them and good for the planet. And let’s be honest—it’s nice when they can occupy themselves for a little while on a hot summer day or after a long day of school. Many kids really take to gardening and the idea of growing their own food. However, they may need a little inspiration to get interested.
Here are five easy ideas to help spark your kids’ interest in growing food:
Tip #1: Help your kids connect the dots between what they’re eating and what you can grow in your yard.
Notice what they like to eat, and point out when they eat something you can grow in your climate. Help them make a plan for what they would grow in your yard if they can—even if it’s hypothetical. You can imagine and talk about the meals you’d make with your summer bounty. For example, if your child likes pizza, you can point out that tomatoes make the sauce. Then you can grow tomatoes, and make sauce for a homemade pizza.
Tip #2: Designate part of your garden to each kid.
If you have a garden, designate part of it to each of your kids. Once your kid(s) figure out what fruits and vegetables that they both like and can grow in your climate, take them to a local gardening center and let them pick out the different fruits and vegetables they want to grow. It can be really fun to choose varieties with different colors or funny names. Then, you and your kids can plant the stuff they’ve picked out together. Another option is allowing them to plant their own garden using the Back to the Roots Garden-in-a-Can Herb Set or tomato and pepper Self- Watering Planters! Have them help you care for their plants by regularly watering and fertilizing. Their hard work and patience will lead to an awesome reward: the fun part of actually picking their produce!
Tip #3: Full circle cooking.
Have your child help you cook with a pepper or jalapeno or tomato (something with seeds that you can plant). Explain to them that they can plant the seeds, and grow a plant that has more of the food they like. Try planting seeds of the thing you were cooking, and see if you can grow plants from them. Once they produce fruit, cook with them again, and voila! The food story has come full circle.
Tip #4: Help them do simple experiments.
Neil deGrasse Tyson says that “kids are born scientists” and he’s got a point. Kids are naturally inquisitive, and adult scientists ask questions and try to answer them with experiments. Encourage your kids to put their scientist hats on—or rather, don an imaginary lab coat and goggles. You can ask questions and try doing very simple experiments at home, to answer them.
For example, buy a few plants of the same variety—say tomatoes. Plant 2 side by side, so they have the same amount of sun each day. Use the same soil, and give them the same amount of water. Then fertilize only one of the plants once per week. What happens? Is one plant looking different—taller, bigger leaves, more fruit? Compare the growth of the plants: their height, number of tomatoes they produce, and the size of tomatoes and anything else you can think of. Talk about it, and help your kids understand that while plants do photosynthesis to make their own food, they need other nutrients to grow, too. Fertilizer adds nutrients to the soil, allowing plants to grow bigger. See if they can think of other little experiments that you can do with plants at home, and try those, too!
Tip #5: Visit a local farm.
If you don’t have a yard, or one that’s good for gardening, take your kids to a local farm. See if there are farm tours where they can learn about how to plant seeds and start crops, compost, and how animals (like chickens) are used in the process. Even if your local farms don’t have kid-friendly tours, they’re often quite happy to have volunteers for even half a day. They might be thrilled to have some extra hands in the field, and teach your kids about farming in the process. Click here to see farms that are near you!
In conclusion, gardening in your yard, or even on your porch, is an awesome learning experience for kids. So many people I know have fond gardening memories with their parents or grandparents. A friend of mine recalls looking forward to her family’s annual summer vacation, because it meant she got to visit her uncle that was an avid gardener. He taught her how to harvest cucumbers and zucchini, and she carries on the tradition in her own garden today. Another friend, that grew up in the tropics, remembers her grandfather giving her an avocado for lunch one day, saving and sprouting the pit, and then planting it. He told her that it would grow into an avocado tree, and she would grow, too—and her family would take pictures of her with the tree. When it was big enough, they’d eat the fruit. I remember how my mom would let me choose stuff to go in our garden, and how exciting it was to go outside and pick strawberries and beans. There are so many ways you can involve your kids in growing food. Give it a try this summer, and let us know how it goes!