When I was younger I remember reading The Secret Garden and being completely bewitched by the imagery I had created in my head of this beautiful garden. Fortunately I grew up before cell phones and modern technology took over and spent all of my childhood days playing freely outside discovering. Gardens are such a place of beauty and wonder. We honor each plant in its perfect place, watching it go through each phase of its life cycle to be reborn again each spring. Butterflies dance, sparrows sing, dragonflies hum their wing songs, and we become quite sure we may have seen a fairy peek out from behind that leaf.
As teachers, parents and caregivers we are the keepers of this magic. I’ve often been asked how to get a child who has been overwhelmed with screen time and over stimulation to find that sense of wonder again, and my answer is to send them outside and plant a garden with them. There are so many curiosities to be discovered by simply planting a flower. It’s even better if you plant something edible. In doing so you create reverence for the work, love and care that go into the food we eat. This is something that many children today are completely unaware of. “Doesn’t food come from the grocery store? What do you mean we have to grow it?!” Reverence begins when we start with a small seed and end up with a sweet juicy tomato. Is there anything better than savoring our harvest, for which we worked so hard?
Keeping this natural wonder alive in young children is so beneficial for their development. We must not answer every question for them with complex scientific facts, but allow them to ponder and come to their own imaginative conclusions. This is how creative problem solving is formed. I am asked many questions each day: “Why is the grass green? Why do flowers close up? Where do the dewdrops come from?” I always respond with “Hmm, I wonder.” What follows are some pretty fantastic ideas. The fairies paint the grass green when we’re sleeping; the flowers are shy so they’re hiding, the water fairies were dancing on the leaves again! There’s so much joy and excitement stemming from all of this wonder! Having this freedom to wonder and dream is what makes the garden so magical for small children. They imagine such beautiful scenarios of woodland tea parties and moonlit firefly dances in the garden each night.
So how can you keep this sacred wonder alive? Firstly, try not to answer every question with our adult cerebral responses. Ask open ended questions like, “What do you think?” Or try, “I wonder…” We often collect nature treasures on our meadow walks in the mornings and then use them to build houses for fairies or gnomes. A milkweed pod makes an excellent cradle, stones create beautiful paths, logs with holes prove to be great places for the gnomes to hide. Planting grasses and flowers within them creates magical playscapes for creative play. For the slightly older child a nature journal can be a space to record plants and animals you’ve seen. It can simply be a few colored pictures, or pressed leaves and flowers. My daughter loves to draw pictures of our nature adventures, drawing toadstools and birds or collecting leaves, seeds and flowers to press. We also have a (very large) collection of sticks and other nature treasures at home. It’s a great way for a child to find beauty in even the simplest of things. Nature crafts that can be placed in the garden are also a lovely way to get a child involved. Stone markers, bird feeders and seed paper are all easy projects that can be useful and greatly appreciated in your garden.
Planting an edible garden where a child can pick beans or tomatoes and herbs in their own basket is also very rewarding. At our LifeWays center we would pick fresh herbs and tomatoes, and then the children would help me make homemade pizza with them. Even the pickiest of eaters would want to try their hard-worked-for creation!
My fondest memory of my childhood was working in the garden with my grandmother. We would go out into the soft grass, barefoot in the warm sun with our baskets, and pick tasty beans and tomatoes. I’d lie in the grass and look up at the clouds passing by in the blue sky while nibbling on those crunchy beans and appreciating our reward for the hard work that went into it. I hope we can keep this magic alive for generations to come.
Amy Gerassimoff is our former editor of the LifeWays Newsletter. She worked in the kindergarten at Tamarack Waldorf School and was formerly a caregiver at LifeWays Milwaukee. She was also a most amazing chef for our LifeWays training students! She currently lives in Oregon and works in an outdoor children’s program.