Spring is a time of renewal, and one great way to get children outside and connected with nature is through gardening. It’s an opportunity for them to learn not only about fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy eating but also about science, math, and language arts in a hands-on living laboratory. Whether your garden is a windowsill collection of potted herbs, big raised beds in the back yard, a community garden plot, or even a school-based garden, Education Nation’s Parent Toolkit has some ideas to help get you started:
- Start Small. Herbs grow easily on a window sill and provide an opportunity to learn about how plants turn sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into food and oxygen and to explore the life cycle of plants from seed to plant to flower and seed again.
- Try a Raised Bed. If you’ve got the space, a raised bed garden provides the opportunity to grow fruits and vegetables with your child. Have them pick out ones they like or ones they’d just like to grow. Kids are often willing to try new fruits and vegetables when they’ve helped grow them. Consider a “pizza garden” growing tomatoes, onions, basil, and oregano or a “salsa garden” with tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and cilantro. No grocery store tomato can compare to one picked fresh from your backyard.
- Join a Community Garden. If you don’t have room for a garden at home, there is likely a community garden located nearby where you can get a plot. If it’s in walking distance, you have a great opportunity to wander over
several times a week to see how things are growing, pull a few weeds, water the plants, and pick any fresh produce.
- Start a School-Based Garden. Many schools have created butterfly gardens and other wildlife habitat gardens (and Illinois Department of Natural Resources has grants to help you do that). A new trend is fruit and vegetable gardens at schools that kids help to plant and tend that then add their fresh harvest to the school menu. REAL School Gardens has worked to develop such gardens primarily in Texas, while the Healthy Schools Campaign is working to “green up” schoolyards in Chicago with its Space to Grow program.
- No Green Thumb? No Problem. Consider signing up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership or shop at your local farmer’s market with your children. CSA provides fresh fruit and produce from local farmers, and your membership buys a share in all of the produce harvested. CSA shares usually include fruits and vegetables, but may also include fresh eggs, meat, or flowers.
Find out more information from the Education Nation’s Lessons in Dirt article.