Planning and growing a garden teaches youth valuable life skills

Youth gain an understanding of where food comes from and its value by gardening and learning the gardening planning process.

Even though the gardening season still seems far away, it is not too early to start planning for your garden. Gardening is a wonderful way to introduce children to plant science and stimulate inquiry and creativity. Gardening, however, does not only involve planting the garden and taking care of it. It also involves a careful planning process. Michigan State University Extension encourages you to involve your children in your garden planning process. The more you engage your children in the process, the more ownership and understanding they will develop for the project. Don’t be afraid to dream big.

This time of the year, nurseries and seed companies send out their garden catalogs. If you don’t receive any, a quick search on the Internet for “seed companies of Northeast America” will direct you to a variety of seed companies from whom you can request a catalog. Take the time to review the garden catalogs or the plants offered online with your youngsters. These can be your own children, grandchildren or any group of youth. Show them the pictures of different vegetables and see which ones they might be familiar with and can identify. You can then discuss the plant parts and see if your youngsters know which part of the plant they eat: leaves, fruit, stem or roots. You may also want to take your group of young people on a fieldtrip to the local supermarket to take a look, identify and discuss the produce available.

Draw an outline of your garden and have children cut out pictures of the vegetables they want to grow and have them glue these into the garden outline the way they want to grow them in the garden this coming spring. No pictures to cut out available? Have your children draw their garden. Be sure to let youth talk about their garden design. They may want to add a bench, rabbit cage, pole-bean tepee or other non-traditional garden items to it as well.

If youth are a little older, you may want to talk to them about cool season vegetables and warm season vegetables, organic growing versus non-organic growing, companion plantings and spacing of the plants. Youth could try to draw an on-scale design of their garden plan. Discuss with youth a budget and expenses for their garden so they begin to understand the cost and value of their produce. They may even want to look into marketing and pricing their produce to break even, or make a little profit at the end.

Michigan 4-H Youth Development has many resources available for gardening and entrepreneurship projects and programs. There are also many other gardening resources available online such as Gardening with Children and tips provided by seed companies. Gardening with children is very rewarding and gives youth an insight into where food comes from and how much energy it takes to grow it, as well as teaches them valuable life skills such as responsibility, problem solving, decision making, caring and team work.