Gardening with children

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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer became a grandfather last fall. He hopes to get his grandson involved in gardening when he gets older. Here are some of his ideas about how to help his grandson learn to love the garden.

(Homeyer) Recently I’ve read a couple of articles about the effect of TV on young children. Research shows that children who watch a lot of TV tend to have a higher incidence of attention deficit disorder. As a new grandfather, this concerns me. I hope little George becomes a gardener, and spends more time outside than in front of a TV. Here’s my strategy:

First, gardening should be fun. I’ll give George rides in my wooden wheelbarrow, just as Grampy did for me. And even when he gets old enough to pull weeds, I won’t ask him to. Children hate weeding. I’ll pull the weeds, and show him the earthworms. I’ll encourage him to find the toads and admire drops of dew on a leaf. I’ll give him a corner of the garden that will be his. He can push trucks around, or make mud pies. Later, when he’s older, he can grow something there.

Part of the fun of gardening is getting dirty. It’s not something to do in a clean shirt or good shoes. So I’ll let George get as muddy as he wants, and I’ll hose him off outside if need be.

Children like to be helpful, so I’ll give George meaningful work when he’s ready to help. One of his first jobs will be watering. I’ll turn the water pressure way down low, so that he can’t blast the lettuce into the middle of next week. I’ll attach a watering wand to the hose because it produces a nice gentle spray.

When he’s bigger, George can take weeds to the compost pile in a wheelbarrow. I’ve never met a child that didn’t like wheelbarrows. And he can pick potato bugs or slugs and put them in a jar of soapy water. Bugs tend to be endlessly fascinating to children, and most aren’t grossed out by slugs the way adults so often are.

And speaking of bugs, I never use any pesticides in my garden. This is very important because children are much more vulnerable to the toxic effects of pesticides than adults are.

Money is a great motivator. When George becomes a teenager, maybe he’ll want to earn some cash. I’ll offer him space to raise pumpkins to sell by the side of the road before Halloween. And if he wants to bring a group of friends to share the work and the rewards, all the better.

I’m a pretty goal-oriented guy, but I’ll try to stay relaxed if George’s plot needs work. I’ll remember that weeds are not a moral flaw. I’d rather pull a few of his weeds, or water his seedlings, than let his plants fail to thrive. I’ll try hard to avoid turning gardening into drudgery.

I bet even a Harry Potter incantation won’t generate the excitement George will feel on harvesting a pumpkin he started from seed. I hope he’ll be entranced by the magic of gardening.

This is the Gardening Guy, Henry Homeyer, in Cornish Flat, New Hampshire.

Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist.

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