By Chelsy Spiller is an Early Care and Education Specialist at Child Care Aware of Kansas. Originally published in the Summer 2020 Issue of Kansas Child Magazine.
Growing Generations of Kansans
The benefits of gardening with children are innumerable. One of my favorite reasons for gardening with children is that it teaches them where their food comes from. When children have the opportunity to plant seeds and harvest the fruits from their labor, they gain the priceless experience of knowing where and how their food is grown.
Several of years ago, I worked as a contracting nanny in Lawrence. One weekend, I was assigned to a family from San Francisco who were in town for a black-tie wedding and needed someone (myself ) to take care of their preschool-aged girl while they attended the wedding. When I met the family and asked if the child was in preschool, the parents began to enthusiastically gush about how they were thrilled to have finally been called off the preschool’s wait list. She was now attending a pre- school that incorporated outdoor education, which included a gardening curriculum, caring for farm animals, and having as much outdoor play as possible — all in the middle of San Francisco. The parents were excited that their daughter was going to be able to have these experiences every day at her new school. I remember them saying, “They even have chickens at the school!” As a born-and-raised Kansan whose childhood experiences mirrored what they had just described, I just smiled, nodded and agreed that they were giving their daughter an incredible opportunity, one many people would love to give to their children.
A few months ago, while I was driving into Salina from our house outside of town, I was reminded of this family when I passed by a herd of cattle grazing off in a pasture. I thought of my future children and the rich experiences of gardening and outdoor environmental education that they will receive, and how many people around the country are pining for exactly what we have here in Kansas. Kansans have a great opportunity, now more than ever, to lead the way in growing a generation of children that appreciates gardening and environmental education. As Kansans, we forget how fortunate we are to have all the factors available to easily share gardening and environmental education with our children. You, your children and your community all benefit greatly when involved with outdoor activities such as gardening.
The benefits of gardening with children are innumerable. One of my favorite reasons for gardening with children is that it teaches them where their food comes from. When children have the opportunity to plant seeds and harvest the fruits from their labor, they gain the priceless experience of knowing where and how their food is grown. When children know where their food comes from and are involved with its production, they are more likely to branch out and try those vegetables that they typically would not consume. Children also learn that there are more foods and food groups out there than PB&J sandwiches and chicken nuggets when they are exposed to a variety of fruits and vegetables from the home garden. Another benefit is that when children have the opportunity to garden and be outside in the fresh air, they have the opportunity to exercise and move. According to the CDC, “For children and adolescents aged 2-19 years: The prevalence of obesity was 18.5% and affected about 13.7 million children and adolescents (in the United States).”1 The more movement opportunities they’re given, the more likely children are to lead active lifestyles.
Gardening with children can benefit the community at large as well. There are so many opportunities while gardening to teach children a sense of respect for life and others. Taking care of a plant or animal can teach children the weight and responsibility of caring for another being. Gardening also can help build the social-emotional skills children need before entering elementary school and later as a productive individual of the community. Gardening can mean whatever you would like it to mean. For me, gardening is therapeutic, and after a long day, being outside working in my garden is one of the most relaxing places I can imagine. Furthermore, since starting to garden, I have cut down greatly on spending a large amount of money on organic fruits and vegetables to feed my family, which is another very beneficial aspect of gardening. People around the United States are looking for outdoor and gardening opportunities that are so easily accessible to us in Kansas.
I encourage you to take the time to share these experiences with the children in your life. It’s up to us to grow a new generation of Kansans, and to instill in them a love for gardening and caring for their environment. I reflect back to driving into Salina and think to myself, “They even have cattle to learn about every day!” I count myself lucky to live in a state that provides the fertile soil and opportunities to grow and raise my children how I know so many people across the country would like their children to be raised.