Get kids gardening to combat desertification


Great Big Plants a décrit l’importance d’intéresser les jeunes au jardinage. Jenny Litchfield nous décrit son plaisir de “travailler” avec son petit-enfant dans son jardin. De mon côté, je souligne le rôle intéressant des “jardins scolaires” pour les élèves et l’importance de tels jardins dans la lutte contre la désertification. Tout en espérant que l’exemple de l’UNICEF ALGERIE, qui a lancé un projet “Ecoles, Amies des Enfants” – avec création de jardins scolaires – sera bientôt suivi dans beaucoup de pays.


On February 27, 2007, I posted the message “Getting Kids Involved With Gardening” by Great Big Plants (Hans STROCK
Address: 4405 South Litchfield Road
Avondale, AZ 85323 – USA
Telephone: 001-877-4BIOSCI

Today, Jenny Litchfield sends me her comment:

I couldn’t agree more. Start early before children go to school. We do nothing special – though I believe it’s important that children acquire language of gardening. Wonderful conversations happen with our 23-month old grandson who eats the peas or cherry tomatoes as he picks them but won’t eat them if they’re cooked at dinnertime. We and his father talk about anything we see while we walkabout or work in the garden – so a conversation in effect, becomes a story about a bumblebee or a white butterfly or a wriggly worm. He can say some colours and names of some plants and garden tools during the daily garden activities – he uses a real trowel and watering can – which is particularly good for watering Daddy. The garden learning experiences are authentic and must be fun. I have observed he mimics our actions so it is important the adults work safely in front of children. Other activities he likes are: smelling, tasting and listening. I’ll crush a few leaves in my hand and we’ll smell and taste herbs and vegetables. We sniff the flowers. We listen to the breeze rustle the leaves or to the buzz of the bees. We take photos of him in the garden and he loves seeing himself on the computer in the downloaded photos, which I caption, and read like a story – he fills in the gaps. He features from time to time when I write about my garden.“.

It’s nice to hear that parents (and grandparents!) are motivating kids to participate in some gardening activities. Thanks, Jenny, for showing your enthusiasm about spending some time with the children in the garden (and not only to play!). Almost all the children are very eager to learn about nature, plants and animals. And our gardens are a part of nature.

My main action fields are the drylands of this world. I spend a lot of time in combating desertification on all continents. Generally, we work with adults, in particular with women, because they are almost always responsible for fieldwork (agriculture) or gardening (horticulture). Therefore, we have been setting up “community gardens” for the women of one village, or “family gardens” for every family in one village, or “school gardens” for the children in one village.

These school gardens in the drylands can play a very important role in the combat of desertification. When kids learn at school the principles of gardening, when they participate in the gardening activities for “their” school garden, they have a lot of advantages:

1. They can learn many practical things about plants (vegetables, fruit trees), soil and water, insects, diseases, harvesting, storage…
2. They can learn a lot about nature (mineral elements, organic matter, water harvesting, soil fertility, temperature, microclimate, role of vegetation cover, role of trees…).
3. They can eat fresh vegetables at school (vitamins, mineral elements…).
4. They learn techniques they can apply later after leaving school.
5. They can become convinced of the importance of planting trees (reforestation).
6. They will be conscious of the importance of water and contribute to water harvesting and water saving.

These are only a few examples, but they show that involving kids in gardening (at school and at home) can play a very important role in the combat of desertification, even in the alleviation of poverty. I know that most of the teachers are also motivated to incorporate “gardening” in the daily activities of their pupils. Indeed, each class can have its small part of the school garden, and the pupils are really proud about “their” garden production. See Jenny Litchfield’s comment “The garden learning experiences are authentic and must be fun“.

After so many years of “preaching in the desert“, I am still hoping that one day international organizations, regional and national authorities and donors will recognize the benefits of “teaching gardening to children“. Seemingly, UNICEF ALGERIA has taken the lead with their new project: “Ecoles, Amies des Enfants or Schools, Friends of the Children“, in which the creation of school gardens is one of the main objectives. May it be a splendid example for the rest of the world!

Thanks, Jenny, for contributing to the debate in such an excellent way.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

One thought on “Get kids gardening to combat desertification”

  1. Greetings, great post and excellent comment by Jenny. I want to add my comment to this essential concept, and that is incorporate organic, natural gardening into the school curriculum. You can start in Kindergarten and carry it right on through. Many subjects can be taught through the garden.

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