The point of gardening with kids isn’t to grow fruits and vegetables as much as it is to help kids grow in faith.
Gardening with young children is like cooking with them: messy, stressful, and unlikely to produce perfect results. Still, helping your kids get their hands dirty in a small backyard garden can be worth the trouble, especially from a faith perspective.
- It introduces kids to the miracle of life on a scale that they can appreciate.
- It teaches them to care for living things, which is foundational to the moral life.
- It helps them to understand and appreciate the imagery of sowing, growing, and harvesting used throughout the Bible and in other spiritual writings.
- It gives them an idea of where the food on their plate comes from, and helps them to appreciate the work involved in producing it.
The Easter Garden
Planting an Easter garden is a great hands-on activity to do while explaining Easter to young children; older kids will enjoy it, too. You can keep it as simple as planting a few flower seeds in a few pots, then placing them on a windowsill so your kids can watch them sprout and grow over the course of the Easter season; or, if you are a little more ambitious and want more immediate results, check out the Easter garden project at A Holy Experience. (Even if you don’t follow their plan, the gorgeous pictures of this family’s Easter garden in a basket will inspire you.)
As you get your hands dirty, talk about the following points:
- When God created humans, he put them in a garden where they had everything they needed.
- God gave Adam and Eve the responsibility of tilling and caring for the garden, a task that continues for us today in our stewardship of the natural world.
- It was in this garden that human beings first sinned against God by saying “no” to his will.
- Jesus used gardens in many of his parables; like a plant bears fruit, he wants us to produce good words and deeds for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
- In the Garden of Gesthemane, Jesus said “yes” to God in order to save us from sin.
- After his death on the cross, Jesus was buried in a tomb; similarly, we must bury a seed in the earth if it is to grow; otherwise, it remains just a seed.
- The new plant that comes from the seed looks nothing like it. Similarly, when Jesus rose from the dead, his friends often did not recognize him at first.
- When Mary Magdalene first saw the resurrected Jesus, she mistook him for the gardener—a symbol of Jesus’ role in restoring life and order to a sinful world.
Gardening with Kids: Some Basic Tips
Here are five quick tips for gardening with young children without losing your sanity:
Go in with reasonable expectations
Young kids are great at “Biblical gardening”: Just like the sower in the parable, they tend to scatter seeds everywhere without much concern for where they land. Like the landowner in the parable of the weeds and the wheat, they may take a “live and let live” approach to weeding . . . or, on the other hand, pull up all the good plants with the weeds. Before starting, remind yourself that the garden is not the goal so much as the experience.
Along those lines, consider using bargain seed (or old seed packets from last year). You might also want to provide your kids with their own little patch of earth to work in. Finally, remember that you can always go back and “fix” their haphazard sowing job, planting seeds at the appropriate depth to germinate.
Keys to making a garden grow
Before you begin, talk to your kids about what a garden needs to grow and bear fruit. Draw connections between the physical needs of the plants and the spiritual needs of people:
- At least five or six hours of direct sunshine. (What is the “sunshine” of our spiritual lives?)
- Frequent watering to keep the seedlings moist in the first weeks, then less frequent, but deep, watering to reach down to the deep roots.
- Deep, well-worked soil to promote deep roots. (What is the “soil” of our spiritual life?)
- Regular weeding and (for vining plants) pruning.
Grow kid-friendly stuff
As you consider what to grow, think “fun” and “quick” and “indestructible.”
In the fun category are pumpkins, watermelons, sunflowers, carrots (kids love pulling them), cherry tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, strawberries, pole beans. (One fun thing to do is to plant sunflowers in a square or circle pattern, then interplant pole beans; when everything is mature, you’ll have a nice sit spot for your kids to hide away in.)
Plants with quick payoff include radishes (21 days), green onions (30 days), leaf lettuce (30-40 days), sugar snap peas (60 days).
And (nearly) indestructible plants include mint, chives, zinnias, and marigolds.
Let your kids put the seeds “to sleep”
Teach your kids to plant seeds by making a “bed” in the garden and then covering them up with a “blanket” of soil. Teach them to “tuck in” the seeds by patting them down under the “blanket” while saying, “Good night, little seed, good night!”
Teach the duty of care
Your kids will probably lose interest in the garden after a few days; all the same, encourage them to continue caring for it by watering it regularly. Use this daily chore as an opportunity to check for new growth, and to teach the duty of care.
Generally, you will want to water the garden regularly to keep the seeds moist in the first few weeks. Once the plants are well established with deep roots, you can water less frequently (but to a greater depth).
Bring in the Bible
As you help your kids plant and care for the garden, ask them to name some of the stories of planting and growing from the Bible—or, if they are very young, share some of these stories with them.
Agricultural imagery abounds in the Bible. The Garden of Eden, of course, serves as an image of the original innocence and justice that God intended for the world. The Old Testament frequently refers to Israel as God’s vineyard (see for instance Isaiah 5:7). And Jesus repeatedly uses images of sowing and growing and harvesting to describe the Kingdom of God. Some examples:
- The parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:1-23).
- The parable of the weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30).
- The parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32).
- The parable of the growing seed (Mark 4:26-27).
- The parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6).
- Jesus is the vine, we are the branches (John 15:1-4).
- Unless a grain of wheat dies and is buried, it remains a single grain (John 12:24).
- You shall know the tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20).
And, of course, Mary Magdalene mistakes Jesus for the gardener after the Resurrection.
One way to remind your kids of the connection between gardening and the spiritual imagery of the Bible is to print out some of the relevant Bible verses on pieces of colorful cardstock. Laminate them or otherwise cover them in plastic, then attach them to garden stakes and place them in your garden alongside the plants.
Gardening with Children
A wealth of resources from Colorado State University Extension.