A growing concern: Teaching kids about gardening, and life
Thursday, May 13, 2010
At the Girard Children's Community Garden in Columbia Heights, Romeo and Juliet are some of the main attractions.
The apple trees, named after the famous lovers because of their tendency to grow best when separated, are starting to bear fruit. Keeping them healthy is a Saturday morning activity for families in the neighborhood.
Recently, 2-year-old Nate Stern struggled to lift a plastic watering can as big as he is and aim for Romeo's roots. It is the family's first time at the Girard garden at Girard and 15th streets NW. "He's always had an interest in water," his mother, Beth Cooper, says. "He likes to water things at our house, but this is like the mother lode of watering."
There are marigolds and herbs, cosmos and phloxes, dianthuses and coreopsis and dozens of other plants in the garden maintained by City Blossoms, a nonprofit organization that teaches children in the D.C. and Baltimore areas how to grow plants.
"We use the garden to teach about expression, healthy living skills and community development," says Rebecca Lemos, co-founder of City Blossoms. For example, a recent workshop taught kids and their parents how to make bird feeders from soda bottles. Last month, they learned how to plant in containers.
Professional gardeners say the sooner children begin sprouting their green thumbs, the better. Of course, gardening teaches them to grow their own food and make the Earth green. It also fosters independence and responsibility.
"It really does excite them when they have their own seeds and their own little gloves," says Kaifa Anderson-Hall, program director of the Washington Youth Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum, which offers year-round gardening activities for families.
So how can parents get their kids to start planting?
The first step, Anderson-Hall says, is to take children to a nursery and allow them to choose a seed packet. "Children love the colors of the seed packets," she says. "Anything that's bright or colorful, children will gravitate towards."
Seed packets usually include instructions for caring for the plant, giving young gardeners an opportunity to practice their reading skills, too.
If children are interested in fruits and vegetables, Lola Bloom, co-founder of City Blossoms, suggests families visit their local farmers market to find out what grows well in this area. Lemos encourages parents to research the gardening activities in their neighborhoods to get ideas on what to plant.
"Before you garden, go online and see what other community and school gardens are in the area. Visit botanical gardens. Walk around the community and see what you like," Lemos said.