Martin Clement, curator at Durban Botanic Gardens, shared how gardening with children can enable learning opportunities and help develop eco-literacy. This is how children benefit from gardening:
1. Learning to be responsible through caring for plants – raising plants from seed especially teaches the need to be consistent and caring.
2. A lesson in cause and effect – too little or too much water, like too little or too much plant food, can kill a plant. Learning about balance and understanding the needs of different types of plants is important. Planning and organizing skills are also learnt.
3. Gardening develops self-confidence especially if it’s at the moment you eat your first home grown carrot or tomato; it also teaches patience.
4. Learning to love rather than fear nature through encountering life in the garden – it also sensitizes the young person to the need to care for the Earth (opportunities to learn about pollution, pesticides and recycling and solutions for creating a healthy environment).
5. Reasoning and discovery – as gardening is an art it is also the science of plants, animals and even the weather and how all this is interconnected in the garden. Ultimately it’s a lesson in observation.
6. Gardening is good physical activity – it helps develop fine motor control and strength, with enough enjoyable opportunities for play so that it does not always have to feel like a chore.
7. Learning to cooperate – good for family bonding; gardening as a family activity or with a group of friends.
8. Gardening is an endless source of creativity – whether it’s in the various ways of growing food, making a fairy garden or bird feeder.
9. Nutrition – learning about where fresh food comes from and helps promoting healthy eating – veggies grown organically at home always taste better.
10. Gardening engages all the senses that is what helps children learn best.
‘We all have an affinity for the natural world, what Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson calls, “biophilia”. This tug toward life is strongest at an early age when we are most alert and impressionable. Before their minds have been marinated in the culture of television, consumerism, shopping malls, computers, and freeways, children can find the magic in trees, water, animals, landscapes, and their own places. Properly cultivated and validated by caring and knowledgeable adults, fascination with nature can mature into ecological literacy and eventually into more purposeful lives.’ David W Orr, chair of the Department of Environmental Studies at Oberlin College, from a paper published in Canadian Journal of Environmental Education.