For my family, getting the 2012 garden going was NOT an easy task! We moved to follow a great opportunity and got a late start on the garden at the new place, finally getting it ready and everything in the ground about a month later than it should have gone in. We knew it wasn’t ideal, but it’s what we had to work with.
But before getting into that, I would like to introduce my family and garden. In 2012, my wife and I and 6 kids were living in the home. At the time, their ages were 10, 8, 7, 5, 4, 1 and 3 mos. We had moved to a very rich, fertile area where the landowner generously gave us a 15×40 plot for a garden. It turned out to be some of the best soil we’ve ever grown a garden in. We planted corn, yellow/green beans, squash, watermelon, peppers, tomatoes, and other stuff I probably can’t remember. Yes, I know that sounds very “lite” on details about the garden – every avid gardener reading this wants to know the details. But this article really isn’t about gardening per se; it’s about getting kids into the garden! And besides, you are probably vastly better experienced with gardening than I am.
So, how do you get kids into the garden to become a productive asset to the family’s needs to prepare? Well, lots of ways.
Attitude. Parental attitude is really what starts the ball rolling. The parents are the ones who set the tone and atmosphere of the home. Our perspective on our children will be evident in both how we deal with them, and how they respond to us. Like a mirror, they will bounce back to us what they have received. From a Biblical perspective, we need to more fully grasp the concept from Psalm 127:3-5, that “Children are a blessing from the Lord”. As parents, do we truly look at our children as blessings? Do we see them as infinitely valuable, “fearfully and wonderfully made” and as “arrows in the hands of a mighty warrior? Or do we see them as obligations and liabilities? They may be young, but they are extremely perceptive! Our attitudes will rub off into their character as they see it in us. Your attitude towards them is the first building-block; if that is off somehow, they will know.
Praise and Recognition. First, let me say my wife has only really ever made a couple of meals that weren’t grand-slams since we’ve been married. She is a truly great cook. One of our family habits is, each night around the table, I call out those who participated in preparing the meal. So, when they were very young and just my wife was doing the cooking, I would make a point to say, “Hey guys, didn’t Mom do a great job with the dinner tonight?” to which I always got a chorus of “Yeaaaaahhhhh!”. So I would follow it up with, “How about we all thank Mom for the great job she did!” And they would all eagerly and repeatedly thank Mom. As the kids got old enough to help in the kitchen, we expanded on this to include the ones who helped with preparing the meal. Yes, it went to their heads. They loved the recognition. Year-round, we praise them and recognize their efforts for each area of the meal they worked on. It touches something inside them to be recognized for their efforts.
Now, when it came time for working in the 2012 garden, we had a foundation to build on. As the garden was being planned and planted and watered, I would again go around the evening dinner table with the usual recognitions, but then at the same time, I would bring up things like, “Hey, did anybody see any beans come up yet?” “I just can’t wait to see beans come up. Those are going to be so sweet and juicy and good.” “Who here wants to help make sure we have some good beans to eat when they’re ready?” It was unanimous, of course.
Ownership and Responsibility. I am a firm believer that if you “own” an object or a task, you’re going to take a lot more pride in your workmanship. You’re going to “make it yours”. What I found was that my kids naturally tended certain areas of the garden. Ben liked the watermelons. Amy was always in the beans and squash. Matthew was eager to take care of the corn. They all loved the garden, in general, but they took particular interest in specific plants. In our 2012 garden, this happened naturally, and I didn’t even realize it was happening at first. In our 2013 garden, we have already planned out who wants specific plants. Each kid has a “square” or two of a specific plant, and they get to “own” that square. Our extremely generous landlord has agreed to allow us a plot several times the size of our 2012 garden for 2013 and so, Lord willing, it will end up to be about a 3600 sq ft garden, which should be enough for each kid to “own” about 300 sq ft of garden to “make it theirs”. Now, before the pro gardeners reading this turn white and have visions of children leaving unkempt vines and unruly tomato stakes leaning sideways, I will say that we all “own” the garden as a family, and my wife and I will make sure that things are done properly and in order. Our 2012 garden was not exactly Eden, either; there were patches of onions and radishes which, literally, never saw the light of day because of the “enthusiasm” of certain ones who planted and tended it. Yes, we want to produce food for dinner and for storage, and we want the garden to be aesthetically appealing, but more importantly we want to instill in the kids the values that make a garden possible. The size of the tomatoes or the straightness of the rows — well, I’m not sure those will ever be in any record books. But the bedrock I’m hoping to leave in the kids is clear.
Hard Work and Reward. There were times when the kids just didn’t feel like being at the garden. The summer was brutally hot by local standards, and it’s far from the house with little neighboring shade. There were plenty of times I just didn’t feel like it either. But we needed to, and it became our “evening ritual” after dinner for all to take a walk out to the garden and see what was new. The sun was no longer hot, and they were much more open to the idea of going out to the garden. Now, I’ve done some back-breaking, blistering work in the heat of the day to make sure things were going to work, and as needed, I’ve had them work beside me in that. So they appreciated the opportunity to work in the cool of the day and make progress. In the early part of the summer, just seeing what new shoot came up or what new leaf had unfurled since the previous day was all the reward they wanted. And seeing new life like that really is remarkable! But towards the end, it gets even more exciting. Are the stems on the watermelons turning brown yet? How big are the squash getting? My wife and I needed to set some ground rules as well. For example, our 4-year old was not terribly skilled at telling the difference between a pepper that was ready to be picked and one that should still be on the plant. A lot of very tiny peppers were picked as a result. The concept of hard-work and reward is nothing new, and of course makes perfect sense to the kids, so we let the ones who had participated most in particular areas of the garden get the “first taste” of it. There are rewards for the whole family in producing the garden, in general, but there are specific, individual rewards for having been the one to work hard and take the lead in a certain area.
No matter where you are on the parenting or preparation continuum, there’s always plenty of room for improvement. If you’re having trouble motivating your kids to get involved in the garden, look for unique ways that speak to them. Lead them into it using these types of principles which help them praise & recognize the efforts of themselves and others alike, take ownership & responsibility for a particular thing, and experience the triumph of hard work & reward from that. I can’t guarantee that having the kids work in the garden will automatically result in every canning jar you own being full, but I can say for sure it stamps a layer of work-ethic into their hearts and minds, and helps them understand that being prepared, and working towards preparedness, is important.
By Tom Kunz
Tom Kunz has been prepping all his adult life, long before it was popular to do so. He is married to the most wonderful woman on earth, and is a homeschooling father of 8, IT security specialist, software developer, mechanical engineer, firearms instructor, conference speaker, pianist, and composer. He specializes in providing security and communications services & support to Christians and missions agencies that work in countries which censor the internet and are openly hostile to the Gospel. His website is: http://SolidRockTechnologies.com/