why kids should garden
Lars saw me cutting Zinnias in our garden and was eager to help. Luckily, we had some latex gloves lying around so he could "operate" safely. But this got me thinking about how Lars is at a stage where he imitates the grownups around him – namely his parents, me and Gerald. I find this exciting and frightening at the same time. Whatever we do or say comes right back at us. Just last week Lars said "Jesus Christ" when he dropped something in the car. That stopped me in my tracks – there was no one to blame except myself, the resident swearer. And yes, it could have been worse (given my propensity for expletives), but hearing something so grown up coming out of a three year old was just plain freaky.
As a result, Gerald and I made a decision: there is no more bitching about bad drivers, swearing at corporations keeping me on hold for twenty minutes, griping about long lines and slow service at the post office, or just outright swearing for the heck of it. In short, I am a lot more careful about what I do or say because there is a mini-me running around the planet echoing all of it, good and bad.
But this is not the real point. The real point is that I have an opportunity here, not to just take away negative language and attitudes, but to add in more creative and positive behavior.
Which I think is really important – even vital – for kids to experience and learn about. And here is why:
LEARNING ABOUT FOOD Most of our food is processed, boxed and bagged. This has created a disconnect between our food and its source. A lot of kids don't even know what ordinary fruits and vegetables look like, which means they probably aren't eating them at home or in school. Check out Jamie Oliver's Vegetable Test where first-graders (that's age six) can't name a tomato or potato, let alone "complicated" vegetables like beets and carrots. Yikes.
SPENDING TIME OUTSIDE This one makes me sound old: back when I was a kid we didn't have fancy gadgets to play with – we had to play outside, making our own adventures building forts, climbing trees, catching frogs and swimming in ponds. This may sound suspiciously Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn-ish, but I swear the outdoors is really like this: made for adventure. At least where I grew up, far outside of suburbia. And although this outside world still exists, it may be hard to come by for lots of suburban and city dwellers. Which is why it is even more important to get outside (even a roof or balcony garden counts) and spend time with our natural world.
EXPERIENCING NATURE When kids garden they learn about plants, dirt, sun, water, bugs, weeds, sticks and all the other things that we call "nature." And without nature we are lost (just watch WALL•E to see what a nature-less future holds, or read a more advanced and educational book on the subject, Living Through the End of Nature). And the more kids learn about nature, the more they learn about themselves. Because how plants grow is how humans grow. Learning how bees pollinate and plants germinate matters, because food matters, nature matters and life matters.
IT'S HEALTHY Like I said, gardening happens outside, and that means fresh air (which has life-giving oxygen in it) and sunshine (which gives humans vitamin D, a necessary mineral for bone growth) and dirt (which has healthy bacteria for building immune systems). There is also a ton of research showing that spending time in nature relieves stress, depression, symptoms of ADHD and makes people live longer. Sounds like a good deal for playing in some dirt.
So, while I'm watching my language and "potty talk," I will also be gardening with Lars as often as I can. Because everything that we do makes a difference, even growing (or operating on) some Zinnias.