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Mail Tribune : Southern Orgeon’s News Source – April 21st, 2007
Children & gardening
Extension classes give youngsters a chance to plant and nurture crops to harvest while learning about natural cycles
It’s a little-known fact, but kids under 10 love gardening, and — given some structure, projects, stories, teachings and friends — will choose it over TV and video games, say Master Gardeners who will present their sixth annual “Children in the Garden” series this summer.
“A lot of kids have no idea about gardening. This really opened my kids’ eyes to it,” says Krista Cavanaugh, whose kids, Meghan, 9, and Daniel, 6, have tended plants, going from seeds, through weeding and watering to harvest — and the graduation day gala of making a pizza for parents, using their fresh produce.
“It’s low-tech, outdoors and they learn useful skills, so they want to help me in the garden,” says Michelle Stockton, whose kids, Richard, 8 and Renee, 6, are regulars in the class. “They learn where food comes from — and that it’s not from the grocery store. They work with their hands. They love it. It keeps them from begging for the TV and computer.“
Starting with a patch of dirt on the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center’s grounds, the two dozen kids (in two different classes of 24) learn to till soil, plant seeds, cuttings or starts, nurture the plants with patience, then, to the delight of their parents, take home lots of fresh, organic produce, including squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, radishes and much more, says class teacher Janet Rodkey of Medford.
“They learn a lot. They learn to share, to be patient. They learn some things don’t work out. and not everything comes up. And they learn about reaping a harvest,” says Rodkey.
The series is not all about sweating over a hoe in a row. The kids get plenty of crafts, stories, veggie snacks, songs about food, gardens and bugs — “Itsy, Bitsy Spider” being a favorite. They start out the classes by making a sun visor, gluing on figures of animals made of pipe cleaners and such, says Rodkey.
Kids come into class thinking all bugs are bad, but quickly develop a fascination with the crawly things that can help a garden, such as ladybugs, and they learn how to discourage the “bad bugs” without applying toxic chemicals.
Parents are “absolutely enthusiastic” about the wholesome, fun class and all the work habits and understanding about nature cycles it generates in their children, says teacher Toni Van Handel, noting the huge demand resulted in the addition of a second class of 24.
The ever-changing syllabus of topics, she says, can include frogs and toads, seeds, worm composting, bugs, bulbs, composting, even making a scarecrow — with topics varying from year to year, so returning students won’t be bored.
Parents are enchanted by the classes and often stick around to serve as assistant mentors, says Van Handel. Smaller, kid-sized gardening tools are supplied for a $5 fee.
“The big advantage of the class is that it gets this age group involved in something active, not passive. We say we are ‘growing gardeners.’ They’re at the age where they’re interested, curious, eager to learn and enthusiastic. It encourages an interest they might never get,” van Handel adds.
“It’s nothing but positive. It’s inexpensive and the staff is fantastic,” says Brian Shelton, whose son, Justin, 6, attended. “Having us all eat the pizza and salad, made by our kids at the end, that was neat, really rewarding.“