Lessons await children outside

The Coastal Gardener

June 11, 2010|Ron Vanderhoff

When I was a small boy, I usually spent any idle time outdoors. When school was out for the summer, the outdoor time doubled or even tripled.

Once out the back door, I had to entertain myself, often for hours at a time. Sometimes that included kicking the ball around the yard or playing with my beagle, Sam. But just as often it included discovering new bugs, trying to catch a frog or building pretend forts in the dirt, knocking them down and building them again.

Oblivious to it at the time, I now know that it was this "fresh air time" that formed the basis of my lifelong curiosity about nature. Decades later I still can't very well change the oil in my car or describe the proposed national health care plan. But I can grow big tasty peaches. I know what healthy soil is and how to sustain it. I even know which insects are beneficial and which are not.


Knowing about peaches, bugs and soil probably isn't a critical life skill in today's world. But 40 years later, I now have a deep understanding of much bigger, more complex things: worldly things like climate change, clean water, food and famine problems and the strains on our natural resources.

For me, and many of those of my generation, the garden served as the window to a much greater body of knowledge.

The bugs in my childhood garden in some way led to my awareness of natural diversity and the need for the preservation of species.

The dirt of my little fort walls silently taught me lessons of soil health and fostered a commitment to preserving the planet.

The strawberries at the edge of the lawn showed me where food came from and have nurtured an awareness of food production and distribution.

Gardening with children isn't about learning to weed and water and fertilize. It's about opening their eyes to the natural world. It's not about the seeds planted in a little backyard plot; it's about the planet's vast forests. It isn't about a can of water supplied to a young tomato; it's about environmental pollutants, a lack of safe drinking water, the uncertain supply of water and the limitations of our resources. It's not about a beetle or an earthworm or a spider; it's about polar bears in the Arctic or the last wild tigers in India.

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