Nature as Mentor: 6 Life Lessons That Gardens Can Teach Our Children
For the past four years our family has been growing a bit of our own food. Between a dozen or so beds, we grow everything from berries to veggies to herbs to cut flowers. The reasons are many: From the satisfaction of creating a bit of food independence to saving money to the solace that working the Earth brings.
But one of the most important reasons we do it is to create an outdoor ‘classroom’ for our kids. And you know what? They just love it.
You can involve kids in the complete life-cycle of the seasons: From starting seeds to transplanting; from picking the (unhelpful) bugs off to picking the ‘harvest’; from tossing the compost to tossing a layer of fall leaves on the beds to insulate the slumbering plants during winter.
And while learning new skills is important, it is often the deeper lessons of life that this experiential learning brings with it that can have a more lasting impact:
- Responsibility for Nurturing Life // Gardens do not thrive unless they are cared for. The same is true for all life. The simple tasks of watering, weeding and tending to the well-being of your plants instills an awareness of this need for nurturing. It allows children to develop a small sense of altruism and realize the joy of helping others flourish.
- Cooperation // This lesson is taught on two fronts. Companion planting—plants that compliment and help each other when grown in close proximity (like the Three Sisters)—teaches kids how we can all help each other no matter what we bring to the table. And because little hands can’t always lift and dig the big stuff, children begin to appreciate the help others can give to get a common task done.
- Nothing Should be Wasted // Gardens are places of interbeing. As one element ceases to exist, it is cycled into and used to help something new grow in its place. Turning plants over or starting a compost pile are wonderful ways to see this life/death/life cycle in action (plus all the worms are pretty fun too).
- Importance of Feeding the Body and Mind // Growing things has the tangible benefit of providing sustenance in the form of food. But the meditative qualities of gardening and the sustenance it provides our minds should not be overlooked either. Focusing on the task at hand helps to develop mindfulness. This skill is one of the most important things we could ever teach our kids.
- The Value of Worthwhile ‘Work’ // How often do we do things because we feel we have to, not want to? When the end justifies the means the latter should be considered worthwhile. The literal and proverbial fruits of gardening should fall into this camp and show children the value of doing something that benefits them and others.
- Patience // As the saying goes, “All good things come to those who wait.” Gardening teaches the opposite of instant gratification. It takes time to grow things but the end result — whether it’s a bouquet of flowers for mom or fresh peas right off the vine — is worth that investment.
Ready to get your hands dirty? Remember, you don’t need acres of land to start gardening. If you have a small sunny spot on your lawn, deck, or windowsill, start there. Raised beds or containers work great and are easier to maintain. Even if you have no space at home you can still garden. More and more community gardens are popping up all the time. The key is to start with something small and manageable so that the experience is enjoyable for the entire family. Have patience and take the time to involve your kids in everything. The smiles take off from there.
Good luck and be well,
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