Big Life Lessons Grown in the Garden
No matter how old you are, a garden basically feels like magic. We may come to take it for granted by the end of the summer, when we’ve become accustomed to passing beautiful flower beds outside every house and each farm stand we pass is overstocked with vegetables. But in these early days of spring, it feels incredible to imagine our barely thawed-out ground producing such a bounty of riches.
As magical as they are for us, gardens are a wealth of wonder for our kids. Just as with many things as a parent, it’s not until we look at it through our children’s eyes that we see just how much can be absorbed from the gardening experience.
There are the obvious intellectual benefits that come from the science of growing, like learning the concepts of root systems, photosynthesis, and seed structure. There are math concepts that can be talked about like depth, height, width, symmetry, and duration. But there are also some big life lessons that kids can learn in the garden that can be applied to how they understand their world and understand others.
At its core, gardening is an opener for our kids to understand needs. Although all plants follow an identical basic formula: sun + water = growth, there is lots of variation within that for each specific breed. Some may thrive with water every day, some may require just a light misting. Some plants thrive with morning light and afternoon shade. Some do best when they are left alone for a few days.
In this way, a fair correlation can be made between plants and people. Some people like to spend lots of time alone. Some people need a nightlight on when they sleep. Some people need a little extra help pronouncing the words in a book. For kids, this concept flexes the muscles needed in learning to understand each other without judgement.
In the garden, kids also get a crash course in one of life’s biggest lessons: change. Even when the change is something good, I forget how tough it can be for little minds who are just trying to figure everything out. My son has a book about tadpoles who ultimately become frogs on the last celebratory page, and every time we read it he cries at the loss of the tadpoles.
Unlike a plastic toy that sits in the basement and is the same for years and years, plants help kids work through the concept of change, in all its beauty and its difficulty. In one sense, it’s empowering to imagine something as tiny as a seed turning into something fruitful and significant. On the other end, plants have a visible lifespan. Blossoms are impermanent, vegetables get picked or eventually shrivel. In a process that can’t be hurried or slowed, plants perfectly embody the wisdom in the phrase “a time for everything.”
Maybe the most obvious lessons in the garden (for children and for adults) are patience and responsibility. Plants take time. You can’t rush them, yell at them to grow, or make them give in to you just because you wore them down by asking them for the same thing for 2 hours. The delayed gratification is such a great lesson for kids – and one that is hard to teach. Plants make it easy because so much of their growth is out of our control.
That being said, if we don’t provide the support plants need, we won’t get the result we want. Kids have the power to promote growth by being diligent about watering, weeding, cleaning, and monitoring their garden, showing them just how important their attention and responsibilities are.
Lastly, a garden is an ideal place for kids to learn appreciation. Seeing how much time, effort, and tenderness goes into growing helps promote mindfulness for the many little luxuries in their world, like sweet strawberries for breakfast and daffodils blooming in their front lawn.
I’m not saying that watching a stalk of broccoli grow will miraculously make kids want to embrace it on their dinner plates. But I do believe that the process of garden growing develops a deeper layer of understanding gratitude. It’s a firsthand opportunity for kids to acknowledge the efforts of others, revel at the literal fruits of their labor, and appreciate the miracle of nature providing for them.