Educating Kids Through 101 Gardening Projects | Civil Eats

Educating Kids Through 101 Gardening Projects

There are things you just don’t think about before you have kids. I am currently in the transition between a childless lifestyle and preparation for motherhood, being over 7 months pregnant with my first child. I am realizing that things are about to change, big time. My brain space is now filled not only with typical work obligations, meeting dates, business decisions, and homeowner responsibilities, but also with questions about how this little one-to-be is going to fit into the picture–how my life is going to become our life.

Of course, one of the biggest baby preparation questions is, how will we all fit? Not only are our lives about to change, but our physical space is too. I guess if you have a rambling home with multiple bedrooms, this issue isn’t as important. But we happen to reside in a tiny 700 square foot space, 100 of those as a separate bedroom that is detached from the main living room, kitchen, and bathroom.

But we do have two acres of wild and blackberry-tangled land, and the baby part of my brain is wondering how I am going to integrate our new child into this garden setting. How will we balance maintaining safety to our lovely rows of crops while ensuring that this kid gets maximum exploratory joy and pleasure from the space? And will we even have the energy to keep the garden going when we are dead tired from feeding, and changing, and adapting to becoming three?

Luckily, there is a new book about how to educate children through the lens of a garden, no matter what size, capacity, or setting. It’s aptly called “The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids: 101 Ways to Get Kids Outside, Dirty and Having Fun.” The authors, Whitney Cohen and John Fisher, are both parents of young kids and have worked as teachers and garden education directors for quite awhile. Much of that time was spent at Life Lab, a non-profit organization based in Santa Cruz, California which was founded in 1979 to teach people to care for themselves, each other, and the world, through farm and garden-based programs. For the purpose of full disclosure, I too work at Life Lab and contributed my recipe writing background to the book. However, now as a parent-to-be, I am realizing what a valuable resource this book is and will be.

Nine chapters lead you through everything that might come up on the subject of gardening with kids. Chapter one focuses on actual design of a kid-friendly garden–chapter three on cooking and preserving from the garden. Chapters seven and eight are packed with tips, activities, recipes, and informative sidebars that thoroughly round out each subject. There are projects about soil and information about organic pest management; stories about real community gardens and child-run food banks; activities like “Worm Bin Bingo” and “Creating Fairy Houses and Critter Condos;” and seasonal recipes like Rhubarb Spritzer or Silly Dilly Beans. There’s even a section dedicated to garden celebrations, with ideas about throwing parties and sharing the harvest in the garden.

But what makes the book most unique, in the words of Whitney Cohen, is that the activities and ideas are “tried and true, either from our programs with youth, or from longtime family gardeners who shared their stories and tips with us.” The wealth of information that Life Lab has accrued since the 1970’s shows up in the pages, with actual examples and tested results of what does and does not work with kids of all ages in the garden. John Fisher also points out that “we interviewed about 20 family gardeners to create the book. It is more than just an activity book, it is how to incorporate the garden into daily lives.” And that is really what makes this publication a must-have. We all have our complicated, busy daily lives which are full of intention that sometimes falls by the wayside. But when we can pick up a book, look at an easy to follow project, go outside and get it accomplished, it means that we have more time with each other to enjoy the earth and learn together.

Ultimately, the true reason for passing on the importance of garden life to our kids is summed up quite beautifully here: “Over time, all of us discover certain outdoor places where we feel both a sense of peace and the spark of adventure. In these places we feel that we are part of something immense and phenomenal as we remember our connection to the plants and animals, sun and rain, soil, and everything else that makes up the natural world…this is the gift of the family garden. As we harvest vegetables, run through the sprinklers, or gather with friends to celebrate the apple harvest, the family garden is a place where–day after day, year after year–we are reminded of our membership in the intricate web that connects all living things.”

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If you happen to live in California, Whitney Cohen and John Fisher will be doing a book talk and demo at Bookshop Santa Cruz on Sunday, July 15th at 4pm.




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Amber Turpin is a freelance food and travel writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A long time Good Food advocate, she has owned, operated and helped launch several food businesses. She is a regular contributor to Civil Eats, various Edible magazines, and the San Jose Mercury News. Read more >

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  1. Wow! I wish I had the opportunity to read this book before my daughter became interested in my garden. I ended up having her plant and water her own strawberry garden (she loves strawberries). That has worked well, but this book could help me out even more! I'll definitely be looking into it.

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