It’s National Allotments week from 7-13th August and it’s the perfect time to focus on encouraging children to grow their own fruit and vegetables.
Whether you have space in your own garden, or you decide to invest in an allotment, growing food is a great way to bring the whole family together.
Hands on learning
With fruit and vegetables readily available in supermarkets across the country, many children are unaware of how those fruits and vegetables grow, the conditions needed for their growth and how and when they are harvested.
By seeing the process from start to finish and being involved at every stage, it teaches them about the lifecycle of plants, what plants need in order to grow and the importance of nature.
Hands on learning is a great way to make learning more fun, enjoyable and memorable.
Try doing a taste test, between the fruit they have grown and the same type of fruit from a packet from the supermarket. Can they describe the difference in words?
Connecting with nature
Gardening helps children to deeply connect with nature, from the sensory stimulation of feeling the earth flowing between their fingers, to watering the plants, watching for tiny shoots breaking through and being rewarded with food they can eat and enjoy. It helps them to value the rain and the sunshine, as vital for plant growth.
Growing food with our children gives us the opportunity to talk about the difference between food grown using pesticides and food grown organically.
It’s a chance to educate them about the benefits for health of organically grown fruit and vegetables and the harm to the environment and the risks caused by some of the chemicals used.
Gardening encourages children to be outdoors and involved in physical activity, such as digging, turning over the soil, weeding, planting, watering and picking the produce.
Being involved with the growing process can also stimulate an interest in tasting different foods, so it can be a good way of encouraging reluctant eaters to try new things and develop healthy eating habits.
Healthy children are more likely to grow into healthy adults, so starting early will give them a great foundation for their future.
Creativity and problem-solving
Children can be involved in the decision making from start to finish.
Planning and preparation are key elements in gardening. Choices need to be made about what to grow and consideration given to the type of soil needed and the conditions required for growth.
It’s important to plan carefully how to utilise the growing space, allowing the plants room to grow, away from other plants, so that they have enough access to the sunlight and nutrients that they need.
Consider the risk to the produce from creatures such as slugs or caterpillars. What precautions can be taken to help to prevent this from happening?
When children are encouraged to make informed choices, it helps them to be more independent and confident.
Growing plants involves care and nurture; important skills for children to learn. Through gardening, they will also learn about responsibility and commitment and the importance of dedication, when seeing a project through from start to finish.
Not all plants will produce fruit and vegetables and this can be disappointing, especially after the time and care has been put in. By talking to children about this, it can help them to learn about patience and resilience.
Gardening is an activity for the whole family to be engaged in and a great way to get everyone involved, from start to finish.
Making a meal using home grown food and enjoying it together is also good for encouraging family bonding and an incentive to do it again.
How to engage children’s interest in growing plants
Story books for young children and non-fiction books for children of all ages, can be useful in inspiring children to help with gardening.
Suggested books include:
- Great Gardens for Kids by Clare Matthews (Hamlyn 2002, ISBN 9780600605164)
- Kids in the Garden: Growing Plants for Food and Fun by Elizabeth McCorquodale (Black Dog Publishing 2010, ISBN 9781906155926)
- Let’s Go Gardening! A Young Person’s Guide to the Garden by Ursula Krüger (Lutterworth Press 1993, ISBN 9780718828790)
- The Family Garden by Lia Leendertz (Dorking Kindersley 2009, ISBN 9781405335485)
It’s also possible to buy child-size gardening tools for children to use, so they can feel fully involved at their level. Visiting garden centres and large kitchen gardens can inspire children to want to grow their own fruit and vegetables.
Cress is a great idea to start with, for something edible that can be grown very quickly indoors. Other quick and tasty plants include Swiss chard, radish, lettuce, courgettes and runner beans.
Brightly coloured fruits are also a popular choice for growing with children and you can start with buying strawberry, tomato or pepper plants, rather than starting with seeds.
Alternatively, you may decide to start with quick growing flowers, such as sunflowers, marigolds or poppies, before progressing to growing fruit and vegetables.
The National Allotment Society have written an article about how to design an allotment, or a section of allotment, for children. It talks about the fact that size and scale matter, so that they are not overwhelmed, how raised beds make it easier for them to water and weed, mentions more examples of ideas to try out and it also has a safety note, regarding poisonous plants.
Where to start with allotments
If you’ve never had an allotment before, there are a range of links in the references section below, to help you through the process of applying and what to do when you get your first allotment.
Starting an allotment
Published: Wednesday, 8 January, 2020