Cultivating a love and knowledge of gardening in youth can be a rewarding experience for all. A garden offers a place to learn, play, and grow through hands-on experience in the freedom of their own backyard. Kids LOVE to dig in the soil and get their hands & feet (or even head to toes!) dirty. Many of the gardeners today share memories of gardening at a young age with a parent or grandparent.
Through gardening, youth can practice and learn many new and important skills that will last a lifetime. Young gardeners learn that some things take patience, especially when you plant seeds and then have to wait a couple of months to enjoy the harvest. By tending a garden from young seedling to fruiting, or flowering, plant, youth experience hard work and discover a sense of purpose. A growing garden, full of plant and animal life, is a place of wonder that teaches kids to have respect for the land and to take responsibility in caring for our earth.
If you struggle to get your kids to eat a healthy balanced diet full of vegetables and fruit, gardening may be able to help. Kids involved in the various aspects of gardening, from planning to planting and crop care and harvesting are more likely to eat (or at least taste!) their harvest. They can also learn the nutritional benefits of the vegetables and fruits they have grown themselves.
One great thing about gardening is you don’t need a lot of space to be successful. The most popular vegetables, tomatoes and peppers, along with fragrant herbs can easily be grown in patio containers. Easy-to-grow crops like radish, zucchini, and leafy greens can be incorporated into your existing landscape. When sunlight, and space, is limited, raised beds are a great gardening alternative to growing in the ground. This method has many benefits including, fewer weeds, and increased drainage, which is essential for healthy roots and plants.
The Little Roots gardening program through University of Illinois Extension encourages and inspires youth to grow their own food and flowers (donating any extra to those in need) and provides an opportunity for family engagement with a garden throughout the growing season.
The program includes a bright, kid-friendly gardening calendar that serves as a guide for youth and their guardian to grow seven different plants from seed through harvest. The calendar engages youth in weekly activities from May through September that encourage observing the world around them and caring for their plants.
Engagement with Extension staff and fellow young gardeners is encouraged throughout the summer through a private Facebook group and community events where youth can showcase their bountiful harvests.
Participants will receive a gardening calendar, seeds or transplants for seven crops, and gardening resources to help them grow. The Little Roots program is designed for ages 4-8 and is free to all youth in Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. For more information or to register for the program, visit go.illinois.edu/LittleRoots.
PHOTO CREDIT: Maddie Gardens; Liz Repplinger, University of Illinois Extension
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brittnay Haag is a Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. Her work focuses on youth horticulture education, specifically through school gardens and Jr. Master Gardener programs. Brittnay provides leadership for three county Master Gardener programs and is responsible for developing community programs and providing expertise in horticulture and environmental sciences.