By Christina VanGinkel
One of the greatest gifts you can share with a child is your love of gardening. It teaches them that a small amount of work can reap great rewards and that if you get a little dirty in the process, so what! I cannot think of a single task outdoors that will provide you with time to share, and that whether shared chatting or in total quiet, it is still time well spent.
If you have very young children, and you are worried that they may trample where you wish they had not, or pull something that need not be pulled, present them with their very own corner plot. Provide them with a watering can, a few simple gardening tools, some seeds or starter plants, and some of your time to help them learn how to nurture and grow. Before you know it, they will know a weed from a delphinium, though in my own experience this does not mean that they will choose to pull the weed. To this day, I cannot convince my thirteen year old that dandelions are the enemy. He thinks that they have as much of a right to grow as do my beloved bleeding hearts and moss roses.
If you happen to live in an area that hosts an annual fair, with entries for gardening through open insertion or via 4-H, this can be an added bonus with a slightly older child, by providing them with a focus for their plants. Tomato plants and giant sunflowers are both favorites among the youths at our county fair year after year, with prizes awarded for the largest overall size of a sunflower head, and judge's choice on tomato plants. It is always great fun year after year, and is a great way to remind both young and old alike that some of the simplest things in life are what bring us some of our greatest joys.
Elderly neighbors who can no longer get out into their own gardens, and who may be living on a tight budget always appreciate the shared bounty from a garden. When it comes via delivery from a young person who also helped plant, care for, and harvest those same vegetables and flowers, it means even more. This is an ideal way for your children to meet and interact with elderly neighbors, or any neighbor for that matter. In this hustle and bustle world, it is a nice way for your neighbors to know that the kid racing by their house on a skateboard has other interests, and a great way for your child to understand that they can make a difference in their community through something they actually helped create.
Teach a child to garden, and you will be teaching them skills that they can carry with them, and put to use, throughout their lives in a number of ways, including the physical aspect of gardening itself, and the mental advantages that they will gleam from the knowledge they pick up along the way.