I'm convinced that children need to garden. Yes, they need to get their hands dirty with a shovel, trowel, rake, or just their bare hands.
First, it is excellent exercise. Digging in the dirt, looking for worms, amending soil with compost, coffee grinds, and other things is hard work! My son, who normally has an inexhaustible amount of energy, helped me create a new garden bed this weekend; he was in charge of chopping up clumps of top soil into smaller chunks. He was thoroughly pooped after a couple hours. Truth be told, so was I.
Second, it offers great opportunity to learn about how food is grown. You can teach some basic biological principles about the plant world--how plants need good soil, water, and sunlight.
Third, kids love to produce something that they will eat. A bonus is that they will have to learn patience, since most crops take weeks to grow to fruition.
Finally, children need to discover the connection between the food they consume and its source. Sure, they know that they get food from the supermarket; but where does that come from?
Wendell Berry writes that modern humans have become too disconnected from their food source and that this produces a strange and unbecoming sense of entitlement and ignorance. I agree.
Here are a couple games that parents can play with their children while at the dinner table:
1. Which Food Group? Name a food--especially the foods that are on the child's plate--and see who can name which food group the food is from. In case you've forgotten, there's meat, dairy, vegetable, fruit, grain, and fat (oil, butter). And no, beer is not a food group.
2. Where Does This Come From? After they name the group, then ask where the food originated. Did it grow in a garden? Was it raised in a barn? These questions will help your child see the connection between the mound of food on the plate and the people who produced the food, as well as how God provides for all of the different types of food that you enjoy. You might be surprised to witness your child appreciating animals and farms a bit more. Then you can head to the Internet or library and investigate with them how crops are harvested, animals are raised, and how certain foods get to the grocery store.
Get your child connected to the food he or she eats. Start with a little garden, however small. It's a glorious teaching tool.