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It’s that time of year in our family, where there is excitement over crocus popping through the earth, song birds returning, and seed packets being sifted through.

Since I was a little girl, my family always had a small garden on the side of the house. Tomatoes, peppers, radishes, cucumbers and carrots were some of the usual producers. One year, when I was nine, my parents dug a 10′ x 10′ plot in the backyard, and it was “my” garden. They taught me how to work the earth, what and when to plant, to weed, tend, nurture and harvest the garden. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun.  I loved the feeling of co-creating with Nature. There are many lessons you absorb through gardening, since some things work well and some don’t. You learn to have patience and manage your frustrations. There is a Zen-like quality, as you appreciate the process of the natural world, and then there is the anticipation of the harvest. Having the opportunity to enjoy, literally and figuratively, the “fruits of your labor” and the joy of sharing with family and friends.

My husband’s family had a small backyard garden too, and for a while he had a 30’x 60′ garden plot at the State Park collaborative of “urban farmers.” So, it was only natural when we married, that we would have a garden. Only, our city house had no real room for a garden, so we did container gardening with varying results, but usually yielding a few good tomatoes. Three kids and my father needing to move in with us later, we moved to the suburbs and now had enough room for our “dream” garden.

This will be our fifth year gardening with our children. Each has their favorite plants, and they have mixed interest levels in the actual work required to create, tend and harvest the edible garden. Steven loves the corn and peas. Kevin loves the pumpkins, sunflowers and herbs. Erika loves the flowers and tomatoes. They all love the strawberries. The boys love the bugs they find. We have watched caterpillars transform into butterflies, and researched insects we don’t recognize. We have used organic, natural approaches to remove unfriendly visitors from the garden, while discussing the reasons why. The kids love to show their friends and even have them help. I love watching how the “whole person” is nurtured and all the wonderful benefits there are as the children are involved in this activity. Then, there is the family quality time. We each are involved in our own ways, although it is my husband who does do the bulk of the work. He loves it because when we harvest through the various cycles of the garden, we then get to prepare and eat the goodies; again, a great thing for the kids. They have seen the whole life cycle, from first scratching the earth and sowing the seeds, to planting and tending the garden, to the harvest and cleanup, to the “review” of the season – what worked, what didn’t, and what to do for next year.

For our child on the Autism Spectrum, there are so many added benefits. His love of science is cultivated by the garden process. His communication skills are enhanced along with social skills. Gross motor, fine motor, motor planning and sensory integration are being exercised and further developed. Being physical, learning healthy, nutritious choices and helping to cook, build his self esteem and self reliance abilities. A few of his spectrum friends have even shared in the garden activities, creating valuable interactions.

I would encourage you to garden with your child and be creative with how you may need to adapt the experience for their level and ability. Ultimately, the time spent will yield more than just the flowers, fruits or veggies – it will produce priceless opportunities for learning, sharing, caring, connecting, grace and joy.

Gardening is educational and useful for developing new skills including:

  • Creativity – helping you with selection, design and planting, and even making a scarecrow
  • Responsibility – helping to take care of the garden
  • Nutrition – learning healthy choices to plant and eat
  • Love of Nature – appreciation for the Natural world
  • Fitness – being physical
  • Social – teamwork and cooperation
  • Logic – reasoning and discovery
  • Self Confidence – the whole process improves self esteem from choice making, goal accomplishing and enjoying the fruits of their labors.

Safety tips:

  • Protection – be sun safe
  • Tools – allow children to use appropriate size and keep truly sharp items aside
  • Chemicals – avoid or only use when children are not present
  • Water – water the garden and stay hydrated as well.