Veggies For The Fun of It: 10 Tips for a Successful Urban Garden Program for Kids

My goal in working with a children’s gardening programs is to open their eyes to a world within the outdoor class space which is filled with flowers and try to make the experience an event they will long remember.

When working with an urban gardening program for elementary school age kids, it is important to understand what will make a successful vegetable gardening program for children. One must first realize a child’s gardening goals differ from those of adult. Middle school and high school gardening programs differs than those for younger children in methods and presented curricula. Kids’ primary objective in gardening is discovery and experimentation. In other words they don’t measure success by the quantity or quality of a harvest; it is the reward in experiencing the process. Kids will use all five senses to explore and discover the garden setting. Vegetable gardening for children will not only stimulate their senses but build a lifelong connection with nature, healthier choices and caring for our environment. Children are curious about the wonders of nature; they like to learn by doing, and will love to play in a garden space designed with them in mind. A kid friendly gardening program should be presented and planned as a fun learning activity surrounded by a world of discoveries. Whether you work with one child or a dozen of them, you’ll find these tips helpful to customize your gardening program.

As mentioned earlier, children’s interest in gardening is different from those of adults. Adult’s aspiration in vegetable gardening is grouped into three categories all based on the “green thumb factor” they are; a sustainable source of fresh produce, the economic factor, health and organic nutrition. These three goals can be incorporated into a curriculum for a balanced children’s gardening program. When presenting gardening curriculum it works best when presented as “teaching moments.”

  1. Define the goals for forming this young gardeners club.What do you hope to accomplish in this gardening situation? Will it be a place for quiet meditation, teaching science, creating a farmers market or a venue for healthy eating? Knowing this will help guide you in deciding the type of garden environment to create, such as native plant, heirloom, organic, herbal or exhibition.
  2. Rely on the experts.Borrow gardening rules, tips and techniques from successful community gardening program in your area. The most successful community type gardens are supported by an involved group of people. This is the time to pull together a group of like-minded teachers, and helpers from your circle of influence. Local Master Gardeners, Farm Bureaus, botanic and organic garden organizations and nurseries can provide guidance and support.
  3. Give the kids their own garden space for the principle of possession. This will give the children a sense of ‘ownership’ of a familiar space and encourages a commitment and responsibility to the gardening project. Whether you use raised beds, repurposed containers or a traditional ground plot, be sure to give children their own separate garden space and encourage them to get their hands dirty.
  4. Make the garden appealing to the senses, Colorful blooms adds to the visual; aromatic crops that appeal to the nose as well as produce that can be eaten off the vine.Choose a variety of vegetable plants well-suited to your region and growing season. It would also be great to include a few edible flowers for color and herbs for fragrance.Children will be fascinated by the different shapes and textures. To get off to a good start plant easy-to-grow vegetables such as cucumbers, collard greens, zucchini, leaf lettuce, beans, peas, summer squash, bell peppers and Swiss chard are all easy to grow.
  5. Set young gardeners up for success with the best soil and light conditions available. This is part of the planning strategy. In urban settings it is common to find predicaments such as poor soil conditions; pollutant, gardening in awkwardly shaped areas surrounded by asphalt or cement. Remember most vegetable gardens requires at least six to eight hours of sunlight each day. It is also helpful to have easy access to water.Don’t be discouraged if your garden site has too many obstacles it is possibly a sign that you should consider container gardening.
  6. Start the garden from seeds. Children will learn more by seeing the growing process as it begins. This is an important part of the discovery process; they will notice the root system and make their own observations on plant development and life cycles. The care given to sprouting seeds and nurturing the young seedling are a valuable part of the gardening experience. Also seeds will develop into healthier plants if started indoors in a warm room. Once the true leaves have sprouted they can be transplanted into the garden bed according growing season.
  7. You may need to help out ‘behind the scene, ‘cheat a little’. They don’t have to know about every small issue you’ve corrected. You may need to go out before or after the program’s session to pick slugs and insects off the vegetables.Regularly patrol for pests, but do not use pesticides. Children should not be exposed to toxins. Instead, remove bugs by blasting them with water. Change a few plants that were severely damaged due to mishandling; replace seeds in beds that were improperly planted. The kids feeling a sense of ownership in the plot is the primary thing. A good result in gardening solely based on the children’s efforts is secondary.
  8. Use alloted time wisely. Have a set start and ending time for the sessions. Change up the activity to keep kids excited about going to the garden. Garden time for children should be in the cool of the day. Include garden themed activities, games and craft time in your program. Keep in mind kids may not be ready at all times for all chores in the garden. All children may not enjoy all garden tasks. There are some who will not enjoy the process of planting outside in the dirt, even those who may be frightened by insects. The incorporation of garden themed activities will give your children a needed variety. This will insure children will look forward to the future sessions and positively impact behavior
  9. Gardening tools and gear are necessity.When you supply children with tools you’re acknowledging the importance of the work they’re doing. Also under the category of gardening tools, there are many kitchen objects that can be repurposed for gardening use. Hard plastic kitchen utensils make excellent garden tools; they can be used like a shovel or spade. We use drinking water bottles for watering containers. If need be let them use your hand tools under close supervision. The uses of cheap plastic gardening tools are worse than no tools at all; they break easily and will discourage any user.
  10. Engage them through the entire process, from seed to table. The garden is a place for teaching moments with kids. Children learn better when they understand the context of their activity. They will learn that gardening is a fun activity, a place to make friends, as well as a place where they are contributing to the community. Gardening gives children a chance to learn an important life skill, one that is overlooked in standard school curriculums. Gardening is also a great way to teach environmental awareness by exploring the workings of nature. Environmental sciences Plant life cycles and seed germination are easily taught in the outdoor classroom. So are math, creative writing, reading, social studies, nutrition, observation and the fine arts. Besides planting and nurturing their garden beds, be sure they are an active part the harvesting and preparation of their vegetables for the table, no matter how modest the crop yield.

A children’s vegetable garden will open their minds to a ‘world class’ learning experience about plants and flowers.

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