Friday, June 10, 2016

Teaching children responsibility through nature: in the garden and our backyard mini-farm

Teaching children responsibility through nature
When I was a child, my family always had a little vegetable garden. Nothing huge, nothing fancy, but it was there. Every summer we had tomatoes and peppers, blackberries and cucumbers, and whatever else we happened to plant that year. It was fun being able to plant seeds, water, watch them grow and harvest our own food.  

This process became so important to me that I have made it a priority to have a little garden in each place I have lived. Sometimes my garden was a single pot or a small herb garden, sometimes my plants died or didn’t take. But now, I’m finally able to have a dedicated area large enough to accommodate just about anything we wish to grow.
Of course I have to involve my kids in this process!  

They both love gardening with me; although,  I don’t always love them “helping”! Yet, I’ve found a solution: I have allowed them to keep their own garden bed where pretty much anything goes.  Somehow their bed is blowing the others out of the water this year….maybe I should just use their random scatter method myself!

That said… I have one child who will eat anything--literally anything. She’s eaten snails, foam, play dough, and probably many other things I’m not aware of.  My son, however, is much pickier and not a fan of veggies whatsoever.  

Despite their differences in food (or non-food) preferences, we’ve been working hard on our garden and have begun to harvest a couple of things. Who would have guessed that my son will eat peas and tomatoes if he grows them himself? Score! That in itself is reason enough for me to keep gardening.

My whole point is that some of the best teaching moments are ones that are off the cuff, no pressure, and not rigid or structured.  That is what gardening has been for us.  My kids are still pretty young (5 & 3) so they need a lot of guidance and supervision. But, they don’t necessarily need “teachable moments.” They are learning plenty just by being outdoors and learning to garden. 

Some of the lessons that we’ve incorporated into gardening are: 
  • Counting the days until our seeds begin to sprout 
  • How seeds are harvested (what machinery, who does it, etc) 
  • What do plants needs beyond sunshine and water? 
  • Colors and how to tell when a food is ripe 
  • Composting: how to determine organic matter vs. inorganic matter
  • Life cycle of plants 
  • Patience (waiting until a strawberry is ripe can be hard!) 
  • Teamwork (we all rely on each other to keep our garden alive)

These are just a few of the more obvious lessons, but you get the point.

It’s amazing how many skills can be incorporated into a seemingly simple task. Equally as important are the life skills that they are learning from participating in our family garden. Learning where your food comes from is important!  Also important is having a healthy understanding for how much work goes into planting, tending and harvesting our food. It’s a much more complicated process than just driving to the grocery store.

In the last couple of years we’ve added chickens to our little hobby farm and it has been amazing! We got our flock as chicks and have hand raised them so they are friendly and tame--so tame that they’ll sit on my kids’ heads and even the dog’s head! We have two laying eggs now and two more that should do the same later this year.

It’s been great for my kids to learn to care not just a garden, but also for a tiny little chick. Both kids have learned to be patient (sometimes), gentle, and kind.

Now they have the added responsibility of feeding and watering the chickens, checking for eggs, cleaning the coop and securing them at night. These are some of the best life lessons that I would never know how to teach them otherwise. 

Of course, this isn’t specific to chickens or a garden; it could apply to any type of animal, hobby or chore.  It’s just worked out great for us, and I’m really impressed with how well my children have been taking care of both the garden and their chickens. 

Plus, who wouldn’t love having these little mini farmers running around?
Mini farmers and their chicks
You should also know that my children have become obsessed with chickens--that could even be an understatement.  For example, they dress the chickens up, bring them in the car when we’re running through a drive-thru, they watch movies with the chickens, cuddle them and let them “free range” in the house every time I turn my back. It’s cute…I may be a little obsessed as well!

By nature, my kids like to be outdoors so I never feel like I’m having to coax them outside.  I know that isn’t the case with all children as all kids (and adults) have their own interests that they gravitate towards. However, I think that there is something about being outside that cannot be replicated indoors.  

You don’t have to live in the forest, on a mountain or on the beach to appreciate this.   

I’m talking about simply being outside of your home. It could be in your yard, at a park, the river or wherever you enjoy nature.   

It’s important that children learn essential life skills that they may one day need to rely upon, and often that includes knowing how to conduct themselves outside the walls of their own homes and how to take responsibility for something. 

To my family, being outdoors is a must and is essential to our mental health. I can already see the impact it’s had on my kids…I can’t wait to see what else piques their interests. 

What are your favorite things to do outdoors with your children? Do you have a garden that they help with? If so, what role do your kids play? How are your kids learning without obvious “teachable moments”? I’d love to get some more ideas!

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