Growing Wonder: Spending Time with Kids in the Garden

“All knowledge is rooted in wonder, and what better place to cultivate wonder than in our own gardens?” ~Sharon Lovejoy

I gave birth at the end of July, bringing our baby boy into the world the same summer that we started the farm.  Some folks thought it bad timing—a baby in the middle of our first season—but we knew otherwise and looked forward to the bountiful fresh food that would be bursting from the garden ready to nourish me and in turn our new babe, and the ease of having a newborn in the warmth of the summer rather than the cold of winter.  Edge declared that Waylon was our best crop of the season, and as I re-emerged into the world from our little nest at home, I felt such excitement at showing Waylon the garden and livestock and rediscovering the farm through an infant’s eyes.

A Slow Beginning

As I slowly eased back into farm work, I’d set up a little shade tent and blanket and lay Waylon down at the edge of the garden as I thinned carrots and harvested calendula.  Edge would wrap him up in the moby wrap and take Waylon to do the animal chores, Papa and son delivering water to the pigs, sheep, and chickens, coming back with a basketful of eggs.  Though we moved slower and stopped more often to tend to Waylon’s needs, we could do much of our work with him nestled against us in a carrier or napping in the shade next to us.

Kids on the Farm

Edge and I met working on a non-profit educational farm in Ester, Alaska.  At Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, we learned many ways to include kids in the garden and encourage their natural tendencies toward creativity and wonder.  During my season there, I was constantly amazed at the creations and imaginations of the farmers’ daughters, and saw first-hand the way gardens can serve as playgrounds and classrooms all at once, invoking a sense of wonder in kids of all ages.  As Waylon grows, I look forward to sharing the farm with him as Tom and Susan share Calypso with their girls.

Let Go and Have Fun

When spending time in the garden or on the farm with kids, the most important thing is to have fun. Don’t put too many rules on them, but instead relax and be open to where their own interests pull them.  If you run a production farm and need to have order, then make a separate kids garden and let them design it: make beds in the shape of things like animals and plants or the sun, moon and stars.  What little kid wouldn’t want a garden shaped like a dinosaur or an octopus, a sunflower or a pumpkin?  Theme gardens are also a great way to get kids into the garden: make a pizza garden and grow garlic, onions, tomatoes, peppers and other favorite pizza toppings; grow the rainbow, with vegetables and flowers of all colors; grow your own fort with runner beans, peas, and sunflowers creating walls as they grow up; or try a pollinator garden to feed the bees and butterflies.

There are endless games to play in the garden, too.  Invite friends over for a scavenger hunt or taste test.  Have garden adventure days and go looking for bugs you’ve never seen before, visit the garden in the moonlight and search for fairies and gnomes, visit it in the early morning and discover dew droplets on brassica leaves.  Follow your child’s lead and move like a plant: dig deep like roots into the soil, be flexible like stems in the wind, and be open like sunflower heads stretching to the sky.

More Food for Thought…

Here are some great books on gardening and discovering the natural world with kids:

Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots, by Sharon Lovejoy

Shelburne Farm’s Project Seasons, by Deborah Parella

Cultivating Joy and Wonder—Shelburne Farms Project Seasons for Early Learners

High Mowing founder Tom Stearns also shared about gardening with his daughters last year. You can read his wonderful article here: Eat More Dirt: Raising Kids in the Garden

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One Response to Growing Wonder: Spending Time with Kids in the Garden

  1. Margit Van Schaick says:

    Katie, I love your and Edge’s attitude, including Waylon in the natural rhythm of life on your farm, with your emphasis on learning and fun. Instead of “no, no, no”, as the frequent background noise, Waylon gets to accompany you going joyfully, purposefully through the day. The essence of your advice seems to distill the main lesson I learned from my mother about raising children–kids will climb, on top of the washing machine and up on your kitchen counters and places you haven’t even considered–so, the best thing to do is to teach them how to do it safely! Having a good sense of humor as a constant helps enormously in creating a happy home. One more thing: I love how you are installing in Waylon the habit that work is good, that working is honorable.

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