“Mom, can I have some more peas?” asked my nephew during dinner. I marveled that a eight year old boy would ask for second helpings for vegetables until I remembered, they were his peas. He had pride and ownership in his peas because he grew them.
My sister has unique approach to getting children to be enthusiastic gardening participants and vegetable eaters. She has given all three of them their own little garden patch to grow food in and take care of. One child loves his strawberries, squash and carrots. Another is eager to see a prize-winning pumpkins develop along with her tomatoes. As I watched my nephew get second helpings of the peas he grew, I realized that the family garden is a unique way for families to spend time together and teach kids valuable life lessons.
Responsibility. The care and maintenance of a garden teaches children stewardship and responsibility. And it is a project that they can take pride in. It’s rewarding to see that because of careful watering, the pumpkins have grown eight inches lately. The usual household chores of emptying the dishwasher or emptying the wastepaper baskets don’t return the same satisfaction and positive feedback that their garden chores will. They will see results of tending their gardens—results they can taste and enjoy.
Time together. Putting together a garden patch is a great way for families to do something together. Unlike watching TV, where you don’t talk, or going to an amusement park, where you all split up, or the ubiquitous solitary smart phone time, building a garden together requires teamwork and communication. There are types of seeds to discuss and choose, placement of plants and recipes to be discussed. Also, gardening is not a one-time event, it is an on going process. Garden beds can be reviewed very morning or after school in the evenings with an eye out for pests or watering needs. Plants need to be watered and weeded throughout their growing cycle, not just the day you began the project.
Patience. In this world of instant gratification, the garden is a startling contrast. Things take time. There is no instant Happy Meal from a garden. Children learn to be patient and wait for plants to grow, flower, set fruit and mature. They learn that in God’s world, not everything is on-demand, some things take time—even weeks. The term delayed gratification takes on new meaning as they watch their pumpkins grow from tiny seedlings to mammoth proportions.
Good eating habits. By spending time growing vegetables, aversion to vegetables as a category is minimized, if not eliminated all together. Furthermore, children learn that vegetables come out of the ground, not wrapped in plastic at the supermarket. It’s much more exciting to pull your carrots out of the ground to eat than to open a plastic bag from the store. And the taste is completely different. The same principle that applies to your store-bought tomatoes compared to home-grown tomatoes applies here; home-grown is much better and better for you.
Education. There are scientific and biblical reasons to get your family gardening together. It’s a wonderful opportunity to teach kids about the weather, local rainfall averages, the change of seasons, the cycles of the moon, pollination, reproduction and how plants grow. They see first-hand the relationship between what you put into the soil versus what you get out of it. Jesus called that sowing and reaping. In the future they will think twice before pouring chemicals down the drain that then flow to our water reservoirs with which we water our gardens.
Biblically, gardening also brings to life Jesus’ teachings about sowing the seed on good soil (see Matthew, chapter 13) and having faith the size of a mustard seed (see Matthew 13 and Luke 17:6).
Hope. Finally, and most importantly, gardening together teaches children hope. They will see first-hand the principle of dying and rebirth. They will see that a colorful Spring always follows the death of Winter. That although they may fail in life from time to time, God always gives us a new start, another chance. They will see that death is not the end, that when a seed falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit. Jesus demonstrated to us, through his death and resurrection, the lesson of hope we find in the garden. And hopefully, they will see that as long as they stay connected to Jesus, the vine (John 15), they can experience a fruitful, meaningful life.
In an age when it’s increasingly difficult to spend time with our children, much less instill biblical values into their hearts, the family garden is ripe with opportunity.
If you want to learn more about gardening and the lessons it can teach you about God, you can get my book, Gardening Mercies – Finding God in Your Garden. Filled with observations, tips & tricks, this garden-themed devotional is a great group or individual help for Bible study.
Available on Amazon (click the picture).