Gardens teach children important life lessons

By Flint Stephens

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, March 8 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Now is the time to prepare to reap the rewards of a family garden, like these home-canned tomatoes.

Flint Stephens

Young children love gardening. For parents, a home vegetable garden provides a great opportunity to teach children some of life’s most valuable lessons.

In October 1977, LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball provided this instruction:

“Who can gauge the value of that special chat between daughter and dad as they weed or water the garden? How do we evaluate the good that comes from the obvious lessons of planting, cultivating and the eternal law of the harvest? And how do we measure the family togetherness and cooperating that must accompany successful canning? Yes, we are laying up resources in store, but perhaps the greater good is contained in the lessons of life we learn as we live providently.”

With spring just a couple of weeks away, now is the time to prepare for the season of sowing, and it's a perfect time to get children excited about working in the garden. Here are some ideas for things parents can do now to build their children's enthusiasm:

Draw a diagram of the garden area and let children help decide the types of vegetables they want to grow.

This is a great time to explain the varying needs of different plants: i.e., pumpkins need lots of space, but carrots can be planted close together.

Let children accompany you when buying seeds or plants for the garden.

When starting early plants indoors, let children fill the containers with potting soil and plant and water the seeds.

Young children may not be able to turn the dirt in garden beds, but they can help smooth and rake, fertilize and get the beds ready for seeds. When planting time arrives, children love putting the seeds into the ground and covering them with dirt.

Some additional tips for gardening with children from familyeducation.com:

Be willing to put up with a less-than-perfect looking garden. Crooked rows and weeds are OK.

Leave an area where kids can dig, even after planting. This is often their favorite part of gardening. Look for earthworms together.

Kids like extremes, so plant huge flowers, like sunflowers, and small vegetable plants, like cherry tomatoes. Plant fragrant flowers or herbs like peonies, lavender and pineapple mint. Show your kids how to rub the herbs between their fingers to get a really good whiff.

“We are too accustomed to going to stores and purchasing what we need. By producing some of our food … we involve all family members in a beneficial project," wrote President Ezra Taft Benson in a 1980 Ensign article. “There are blessings in being close to the soil, in raising your own food even if it is only a garden in your yard and a fruit tree or two. Those families will be fortunate who, in the last days, have an adequate supply of food because of their foresight and ability to produce their own.”

Gardening is a good way for children to learn patience. Consider this advice from mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com: “The thing about gardening is that you realize you can’t rush things. A seed takes a certain amount of time to sprout, no matter what you do. A plant or tree takes a certain amount of time to grow, flower or bear fruit, no matter what you do. No amount of chemicals or technology can make it go faster.”

Gardening also provides chances for lessons about science, nature, nutrition, and even cooking and preserving food. In addition, children gain a wonderful feeling of accomplishment and self worth when they harvest food they helped grow.

“We encourage you to grow all the food that you feasibly can on your own property. Berry bushes, grapevines, fruit trees — plant them if your climate is right for their growth. Grow vegetables and eat them from your own yard," President Kimball said in 1976. “We should train our children to work, and they should learn to share the responsibilities of the home and the yard. … Children may be given assignments to take care of the garden, and this will be far better than to have them for long hours sitting at a television.”

Flint Stephens is author of the book Mormon Parenting Secrets: Time-Tested Methods for Raising Exceptional Children. Flint has a master's degree in communications from Brigham Young University. His blog is www.mormonparentingsecrets.com.

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