Written By: Rick Bickling
“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” — John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States
One of the areas being emphasized in today’s schools is giving students the knowledge and skills to gather and evaluate information, and then problem solve to make educated decisions. Science, technology, engineering, and math, disciplines collectively known as STEM, are the essential elements to this effort. Add an “A” for art, and you’ve got STEAM. But what about a “G” for gardening? Doesn’t really seem applicable. Or does it? An argument could be made that many of these skills can, and perhaps should, be taught with the use of a little less “T”, and a lot more “G.”
An April 2020 study released by ParentsTogether found that almost half of American children spend more than six hours of screen time online per day, an almost 500% increase from before COVID-19. A recent study by The National Institute of Health (NIH) found that young children, whose brains are still developing, who spend two or more hours per day in front of a screen score lower on thinking and language tests than peers who didn’t. For children ages 2-5, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a limit of one hour per day of screen time. A Penn State University study shows that teens have higher rates of depression, loneliness, anxiety, and attention problems the more time they spend in front of a screen. Increased screen time leads to higher body-mass index, less sleep at night, delays in cognitive, language, and social development, and a deep lack of connection with others.
It was hard enough trying to regulate screen time before mask mandates, lockdowns, social distancing, working from home, and remote learning in schools. But it’s becoming increasingly important that we find creative ways to limit and counteract this childhood screen time epidemic.
Square Foot Gardening with Kids, written by Mel Bartholomew, the founder of Square Foot Gardening, offers some great techniques for getting children “unplugged” and out in the fresh air with a non-digital way to teach a whole bunch of useful lessons on practically every imaginable subject. If you’re looking for a way to learn, have fun, and bond with youngsters in your life, you won’t find a better, healthier, more positive vehicle than planning, building, planting, growing, nurturing, and harvesting a Square Foot Garden together. The book shows how you can learn together with your child about gardening basics, science, math, art, reading, writing, water conservation, self-sufficiency, independence, planning, social skills, and healthy eating.
The information, lessons, activities, and exercises in the book will work for kids of all ages. Age specific variations are presented for Preschool Growers (Ages 2 to 5), Early Learners (Ages 6 to 9), Terrific Tweens (Ages 10-13), and Cultivating Teens (Ages 14 and up).
The core principles of Square Foot Gardening with Kids are:
- Start modestly: Room for a 3 x 3-foot SFG box per child is all the space you need.
- Involve the child: Every step in the process represents a chance for the kids to be involved. Don’t do everything for them, but help as needed so they can do it themselves.
- Reinforce the benefits: When your child excitedly runs in the house with that first squash they just grew, find a good recipe and cook it that night
- Look for lessons: A Square Foot Garden is a wonderful teaching vehicle to encourage your child.
- Share: Kids love to share their successes. Give Grandma and Grandpa a call to let them know what’s growing.
- Fun: Just enjoy learning with your children. Life, like gardening, is full of both successes and failures. Making the most of both in the garden will help prepare your children to better deal with both as they grow up.
Now more than ever, we need to do all we can to help our children during these difficult times, and the physical, mental, emotional, educational, and interpersonal benefits of Square Foot Gardening with Kids are many. The lessons learned, time spent, and memories made sharing in their SFG with you will remain with them for the rest of their lives. So, give your kids, and yourself, a break from screen time. Whatever the current season, grab a copy of this book, get started, and create your own “New Normal” today with Square Foot Gardening with Kids.
About the writer: Rick is a Texas Master Gardener and Honorary Square Foot Gardening Certified Instructor. Gardening in Texas clay soil (zone 8b) has its challenges, and Rick found solutions. After Rick’s sons grew up he found a way to reuse a concrete basketball court by putting Square Foot Gardens right on the concrete and utilizing Mel’s Mix instead of amending his native soil.
In addition to being an avid Square Foot Gardener, an Honorary SFG Certified Instructor and a Texas Master Gardener, Rick finds time to work closely with the Square Foot Gardening Foundation and it’s Directors, Laura & Steve Bartholomew, creating video tutorials called SFG “Essentials” exclusively for the SFG Foundation. You can find Rick’s YouTube video series here.2