There is no better memory for a child than those created in a garden and we can say that with assertion. This is because we’re often reminded that we continue to behave like children, so perhaps these memories are closer and stronger than we realise.
It's the smell of tomato foliage that stirs the strongest sense of nostalgia. It comes from the earliest years exploring towering tomato plants in our Nonna and Nonno's veggie patch. It feels like the first distinct memory, but then there's a few others tangled in there too, yet they all seem to revolve around the garden. This is why so many parents strive to lure the kids out.
In an age where artificial stimulation is becoming king, we sometimes have to remind even ourselves that the outside world exists. Building a relationship with the garden ourselves is the primary, and in fact, first step in getting the kids involved too. Here's some ways to tangle with your own tomato plants;
1. Set the example: Maybe we don't always set the right example, so we can't blame the kids for licking their plate clean - literally - if you eat every meal like it's your last. But you can set more positive examples and lead the little ones into the garden. Kids are pretty switched on, so they aren't going to be fooled by your attempts to get them outside if you then swiftly u-turn back indoors to scroll Facebook on the iPad. You need to lead with honest enthusiasm. Behaving like a child here is OK.
2. Make it a game: It’s an almost mechanical reaction to run after ball, and sure, we could be border collies in disguise, or maybe there is something that stirs in all of us once we find the fun (and healthy competition) in it. The kids have recently taken to hunting for caterpillars on the kale plants. Surprisingly they’ve also taken to squashing them between their little, delicate fingers. Caterpillar hunting is a game that is mutually beneficial for everyone involved, with the exception of the caterpillar. It’s one of those rare win-win-win-lose scenarios.
3. Facts that resonate: Your children are not going to pay attention when you start listing the important nutritional, physical and psychological benefits of growing your own food. HMMMM. They will however sponge up those abhorrent youtube videos of home recreations of the movie Frozen. What does this tell you? Challenge your 4 year old psyche. Remember what it was like as a kid when your mum told you to eat something because “it’s good for you!”. Remember that almost involuntarily reaction to throw that bowl of pea soup up against the kitchen wall.
A child’s thirst for knowledge is immense. It’s the reason why the most popular question in humankind is presented by little people between the ages of 3-6: “Why?”. Why indeed. Perhaps if you don’t know about the parasitoid wasp that impregnants the caterpillar of the white cabbage moth and then kills it once the pupae are born, and actually protected by the caterpillar until they hatch and turn on it, you should be asking the question more often yourself. There is so much to learn.
4. Get their hands dirty: Let the children run wild! The worse that can happen is that your children get dirty and so does your sofa and no doubt the hallway rug. But the best that can happen is that they take so wildly to gardening they become the automated watering system you’ve always dreamt about! And like we said previously, there is so much to learn. In a handful of soil, that will most commonly think of as dirt, or mess, there are more living organisms that people on planet earth. Imagine if your child gets to meet even 0.001% of these? Inquisition is the best quality in a child, and questions will demand answers and then answers creates a thirst to learn about more than just parasitoid wasps and soil organisms.
5. Proper tools: Remember that time when you were out in the garden helping your mum or dad or granddad or grandma and they were using a steel hand fork to till the soil and you only had that crappy plastic one? ….Or do you remember the time you were in the garden and your son or daughter or granddaughter or grandson and they were nagging you to use your steel hand fork so you ended up using a crappy plastic one? No one likes a plastic hand fork to till earth, particularly not your child when they see you with the legitimate tool. This is why we truly believe that plastic and poorly made garden tools are only destined for landfill. When buying tools for your little ones, buy quality, that will last and that will work. Of course that doesn’t mean your 6 year old needs a hedge trimmer too, it’s more than when you have the option, please get them something that will last and they can use. Until they lose it that is.