Article originally published in June 2015 Her Family.
With summer vacation and a welcome reprieve from the classroom under way, spring is a great time to teach kids lessons in greener pastures. Spending time in the garden with mom and dad not only helps get kids outside, but can also unearth some hidden interests.
Scott Evans, the Horticulture Program Coordinator for UNL’s Extension office in Douglas and Sarpy counties, got his start in plants as a kid, and his passion never faded. He grew up around nurseries with garden-loving parents, and despite a childhood obsession with dinosaurs, springtime visits to greenhouses in Council Bluffs made him into a plant guy.
“The smell of earth and that dampness is still something that, to this day when I walk into a gardening center, just brings back very fond memories,” says Evans.
Even if your kids aren’t crazy about plants, Evans believes that working hands-on with flowers, vegetables, and shrubs can teach kids important lessons about sustainability, especially if they’re not around plants all that much in the first place.
“When kids grow up in urban settings, they don’t realize where their food comes from. They’re missing that connection from where food actually comes from,” says Evans.
To make the experience more fun for parents and children alike, be sure to tailor your gardening routine to whatever your kid is interested in. Parents can get their creativity budding by browsing Pinterest or other websites for gardening project ideas.
Have a child who has a craving for homemade pizza? Grow the necessary ingredients together—tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc. If your kids love fairy tales, plant vegetables and flowers with whimsical names—there’s the Snow White carrot and the Purple Dragon carrot, for starters. Or try planting flowers with a variety of fun colors, smells, and textures for those still exploring their interests, like Gardenias or Woolly Lamb’s Ear.
For children who are too young to start taking care of plants on their own, pulling weeds and watering plants alongside adults are good tasks. Many gardening stores even have smaller, easy-to-carry watering cans or trowels designed just for the budding young gardeners. While adult supervision is key, Evans says to not be afraid of letting kids get their hands dirty. The more involved they are in the project, the more likely they are to stay interested.
Evans also recommends teaching kids simple biology principles that will help them understand how plants grow. Explain to them how plants aren’t like animals in that they make their own food, and thus need to have a proper amount of sunlight and water to flourish.
Finally, remember to start small. Remind children that even with tender loving care, not every plant will bloom, and don’t try to grow an entire greenhouse overnight. Even just starting with a few pots or another container garden can teach kids valuable horticulture lessons, and help their creativity bloom.
“It’s like when we go to dinner—our eyes are bigger than our plate,” says Evans. “Just starting small allows for a greater success, and then when you have that success, you can continue to build upon it.”