Kids can learn and have fun when helping in the garden
Sadie Levering, left, Roula Hammer and Helena Bridwell check the progress of plants they are growing at Morgan Academy. (By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer / May 3, 2012)
So when the Fairplay woman started gardening, she wanted to make the experience fun and interesting for her daughter.
Webster cultivated her gardening to become a Master Gardener in 2008, and works with the gardening club at Morgan Academy, the school where Hannah, now 7, attends.
The club meets Thursday afternoons at the Shepherdstown, W.Va., school. Webster said the group is all-encompassing when it comes to gardening, going from planting seeds to growing vegetables. This year, she said, they are building teepees and planting sunflowers and morning glories.
"We try to link everything back to nutrition," Webster said. "If the kids grow it, they will eat it."
Last spring, she said, the students planted and ate the green, leafy vegetable arugula. "There aren't many kids who want to eat arugula," she said.
Webster said she has worked with preschoolers, but finds that school-age children are best to work with when it comes to gardening, but cautions that no matter the age of the kids, don't expect perfection.
"Kids do not plant like adults so plan for that. Do not give an 8-year-old a handful of seeds expecting them to end up in a neat row; they will likely end up in one big clump. Instead, give them one or two seeds at a time," Webster suggested.
Webster said to also keep age in mind when delving out the duties.
"Try to make sure that the activities you are doing in the garden suit the age of the child involved. I let the older kids do the more complex tasks and give the simpler things to the younger kids," she said.
An easy task for younger children, according to Webster, is to let them water plants. Using a child-size watering can, the kids can water to their hearts' content. "All kids love to water," she said. "They can't really do it wrong."
Container gardening is also a type of gardening that works well for children. Containers can be placed on higher levels for comfort, and "the kids can't step on (the plants)," she said.
"You'd be amazed at how much you can grow in containers," she said.
At Morgan Academy, the students even grow potatoes in containers. When it's time to harvest the vegetable, the containers are turned upside down on a large tarp and instead of digging potatoes, the kids find them.
"It's like an Easter egg hunt," she said.
At her home, Webster is growing peas, lettuce and broccoli in containers on her deck.
And when it comes to pulling weeds, Webster has a solution for that, too, at least for older children. She said one way to make weeding fun is to provide pictures of a weed and then have a weed treasure hunt. "It's beyond exciting for the older kids," she said.
Jamie Kenton, an extension educator in 4-H Youth Development with the University of Maryland Extension in Washington County, also gardens with her daughter. Kenton said daughter Kat, 6, loves to dig in the front yard garden Kenton calls her "prairie."
"She's not necessarily helping," but it still cultivates her interest, Kenton said.