by Misty During my years studying environmental science, I came across a wonderful book called Last Child in the Woods. It's a (to quote the back cover) "groundbreaking work about the staggering divide between children and the outdoors."
Author Richard Louv laments the current trend of structured play for children - our tendency to shuffle our kids from one activity to the next, never allowing time for more natural play routines to emerge. And also never allowing much time for outdoor play, whether in backyards, local wooded areas or ravines, and gardens.
Having recently finished another great read, Animal Vegetable Miracle- in which one family strives to live entirely off their land for a whole year - I have been prompted to think a bit more about my own daughter's relationship to the land, and the way we teach her about our food sources. As Louv writes,
"the idea that natural landscapes, or at least gardens, can be therapeutic and restorative is, in fact, an ancient one that has filtered down through the ages. Over two thousand years ago, Chinese Taoists created gardens and greenhouses they believed to be beneficial for health."
Us city dwellers tend to be seperated from our food source, and our meals land in grocery stores on styrofoam trays and covered in shiny plastic wrap. It's funny to think, but there are kids out there who don't even know that potatoes grow in the ground! How could they, when they've never had the opportunity to dig one out?
There are many benefits to gardening, and research backs a lot of them. Of course, some are just common sense, but it's handy to begin thinking about ways to involve your children. Here are some interesting facts, tidbits and suggestions:
- With gardening comes a sense of community: neighbours swapping plants, seeds, and produce, or local housing co-ops growing a communal garden. Don't have a backyard? Begin with easy-to-grow plants and vegetables in pots (herbs are great to start with!) or speak with your condo board about a communal growing space.
- gardening has been shown to be a powerful therapy for children with attention-deficit disorders and other behavioural issues.
- Allow the freedom for children to just get dirty. Sure, it takes us parents extra time to tidy up, but a child who has a run of the backyard with hoses, rakes and shovels is one happy kid!
- Getting children involved in planting and tending gardens can go a long way in teaching various aspects of our educational curriculum - biology, chemistry, and even reproductive health (after all - plants reproduce, right? Explain how and why! Don't worry if you need to Google the answers.)
- Assign your child a garden of their own, and involve them in picking seeds (or plants), weeding, and then picking and enjoying the "fruits" of all their hard work.
- Living here in Canada, we also need to learn about food storage. How do we enjoy the benefits of our labours long after the first snow has fallen? New local businesses are popping up, offering us ways to re-learn what we have forgotten - drying, smoking, canning and pickling may be skills you wished you knew more about. Now's the time! Let's bring back these skills, and pass them along to the next generation.
- Studies have shown that gardening and other forms of natural play (exploring woods or ravines) can improve a child's sense of worth and self-esteem. Why? Being responsible for a garden leads to rewards - like when we discover the first tomato of the season. Kids can feel proud about what they have accomplished.
- If there is no time for gardening, at least make an effort to visit your local farmer's market each week during harvest season, and make sure to get to know local producers. You might be surprised what you can discover about the food we eat.
Swimming lessons, gymnastics and playgroups are fun and rewarding activities, but can be overwhelming for children if that is all they experience. Direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.
So this winter, peruse through some seed catalogues with your children, and discover how much fun it is to plan what you'll be eating next spring, summer and fall.
Misty Pratt is a local doula in Ottawa, and when she's not supporting new families, she's working as a Research Assistant at the Ottawa Hospital and blogging about life in general. Read more at www.thechickadeetweet.blogspot.com