Why Kids Should Learn to Garden and Do Art

girls gardening in garden boxes
There is lots of work to do in the garden and never any shortage of help, especially when it comes time to picking and eating.

Truth is, I’m worried about the kids. The world is changing. Major shifts are underway environmentally, politically, economically — in just about every way, really. Just like kids need to learn to tie their shoes and brush their teeth, I believe they need to learn how to grow their own food, because it’s part of taking care of themselves. If kids don’t eat well, they won’t be healthy, and if they aren’t healthy, they can’t do much of anything in this challenging world.

I have been teaching gardening for the past two years at the Boys and Girls Club of Moncton, and I have been supporting that learning with “garden art.”

In early spring, when the kids are released from the grey confinement of winter and we tear out old debris, turn the soil,  and plant seeds, then energy and excitement abound. Delight is always the initial reaction. From one tiny seed comes a plant and then … food. If that’s not miraculous, I don’t know what is.

Once the initial euphoria wears off, everyone sees that it’s a lot of work. It can be an effort to get up the requisite gumption and everyone groans with the prospect of numerous tasks. We need to take care of growing plants — fertilize, water, weed and nurture.

But early in the game we find our gusto again. We commit and come to love the green, growing garden. Why? Because the more you nurture a living thing the more connected to it you become. True for plants, pets and people. They learn patience, reverence and respect for how long it takes to grow food. They learn to observe.

Looking for Beauty

girl drawing next to a garden box
Children find beauty everywhere in the garden. What is beautiful about doing art with children in the garden is that they see it as someplace to be, someplace they can spend time with growing things.

Furthermore, we look for beauty in the garden and have fun expressing that in art, and there the learning deepens, the mind is calmed and the soul is fed. Some see glowing light around the plants and draw that. Some talk to the plants and caress them like pets. They gently hold small bugs found in the soil or on leaves  and watch them wiggle their antennae and give them names. We draw these bugs or create some out of found natural objects, paint and glue. Some of the kids dance and play. Gardening is a theatre where simple acts are an antidote for cynicism and a balm for the imagination.

Growing Food Makes You Generous

Growing your own food is the single most important act you can do to reclaim power politically and socially. With this basic activity you break your dependence on the corporate food system, using your labour and skills. Who knows what is going to happen to our food supply in the next few years? Who knows how it will be for the kids?

By growing your own food, you save money. It’s an economic buffer. And you know where your food comes from and what you’re getting. You become more connected to other people. I am compelled to generously and proudly share food with family and neighbours. And the kids are too. They always want to bring some home for their families.

Vegetable gardening is the single most important thing you can do for health. It works the body, the mind and gladdens the spirit. Homegrown veggies are more nutritious. Many people have never experienced, or have forgotten, the amazing flavour and intense vitality that comes from fresh vegetables and herbs. Feels like life bursting into your mouth. There is absolutely no other experience like it. In my mind, eating well is a form of self respect.

Even Raw Onions

The kids can’t wait to pick and eat the food. And they eat it all. Even raw onions. Even raw turnips and beets. I do show them how to cook too, but sometimes they can’t wait.

children cooking muffins
Cooking is just as important as growing food. I teach them to cook and they always love what we make. They also love the way the other children love what they make. The proof that the food is delicious is that it’s always gone at the end.

Growing your own food is a practical and loving way to connect with your kids. It’s an opportunity for fun, conversations, learning science, seeking beauty, and fostering expression through the visual arts or writing stories and poems. And with all of this comes a sense of collective accomplishment.

I love doing art with them to help them experience the garden more deeply. We study leaf shapes and talk about photosynthesis and press the leaves into clay to make pendants. We observe the bees, butterflies, hummingbirds visiting the plants and talk about pollination.

girl holding magnifying glass to her artwork
The level of detail that children observe the garden is fascinating in itself. They love the leaves and the bees and the fruit and the bugs. They really love the bugs.

We watercolour paint coffee filters and make them into butterfly wings. We make windchimes for the garden out of recycled silverware, their tinkling tones reminding us to eat healthy meals. We make plant growth patterns by blowing paint with a straw on paper. We decorate small clay pots and plant seeds in them to take home so they can observe the whole sprouting process more closely.

We make garden lanterns out of paper cups and paper bags and battery-operated tea lights so they can observe plants at night in their  own yards or gardens.

We make necklaces and bracelets out of seeds and beads just because it’s fun and everyone wants to adorn themselves in an earthy, sprightly way like fairies or elves.

In a Garden is Hope

boy with pea plants
Gardens are all about hope. And so are children. It’s marvellous to watch how much they love to go out each week to see how much the garden has grown.

In a garden — in our garden — there is growth, change and renewal, but mostly there is hope. And lots of it.

Recently I had an experience that opened my heart wide. A sweet small boy with huge brown eyes, dark lashes and a half moon smile still full of baby teeth, twirled and skipped as we made our way to the garden bed. He had recently arrived in Canada.

“I’m happy,” he said to me.

“That’s great!  If you’re happy I’m happy. Why are you happy?”

“Because you are growing food for us.”

And he ran off to see how the peas were doing, plucked a pod and popped the whole edible “pois mange tout” into his mouth. So simple and satisfying.

Growing food is hope, making art is hope. Children are hope, growing so much in one season just like the plants. And with hope we are like the plant’s roots, always seeking what is fertile ground. And we are forever like the sunflowers, turning our faces toward the sun.