|My nephew Vinny's garden.|
I was 37 years old before I dug a potato out of the ground. I was 38 when I held a warm, freshly laid egg in my hand. Even though my father was raised in the country, for most of my childhood, we lived above a funeral home in a small city so we had no back yard in which to plant a garden.
That’s terrible hole in my upbringing. What’s worse, I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when children had far greater freedom to play and explore outside than they have now.
As spring blooms again, the land is calling out to all of us in a language fewer of us are able to understand.
It’s the language of dirt and worms, of water and roots, of plants and produce. How many children are growing up speaking that language? How many children know what it’s like to pull a carrot out of the ground or pick beans off a vine?
On a website devoted to women who farm, Susan R. Johnson, a pediatrician in San Francisco, posted an article in which she wondered what happens to children’s growth and learning potential when they spend hours inside watching videos and playing computer games?
Through her practice, she sees many children who have difficulty paying attention, focusing on their work, and performing basic tasks with their hands
“It wasn’t until the birth of my own child, however, that I came face to face with the real impact of television,” she writes. “It wasn’t just the content, for I had carefully screened the programs my child watched. It was the change in my child’s behaviour (his mood, his motor movements, his play) before, during, and after watching TV that truly frightened me.”
Dr. Johnson’s solution? Nature.
“Nature is the greatest teacher of patience, delayed gratification, reverence, awe, and observation,” she says in her article. “All the senses are stimulated. We only truly learn when all our senses are involved, and when the information is presented to us in such a way that our higher brain can absorb it.”
Gardening is the easiest way to get children into nature. We don’t need a lot of space or freedom to get kids digging in dirt and growing food and taking responsibility for the regular chores of watering and weeding. It’s as simple as a container on a deck or a section in a community garden.
My eight-year-old nephew Vinny grows his favourite vegetables, including broccoli, brussel sprouts and strawberries, in a six by two foot patch of sun in his family’s tree-shaded back yard in Atlanta, Georgia.
When I asked him why he has a garden, he told me, “I love to eat fresh vegetables. I like pulling stuff up. I like getting it and eating it.”
“It’s city gardening in a shady yard, that’s the biggest challenge,” my sister explained after Vinny had passed the phone over to her. “But planting stuff, and watching it sprout and picking it – he gets very excited by that.”
Children make great gardeners because of their natural curiosity and willingness to explore, and there’s no better way to activate their brains and their bodies than through the excitement of digging up potatoes they planted themselves.