By: K. Peak
So much of our lives and religions are based on cycles: the seasons; the wheel of life; day into night. Many religions have some form of cycle to their belief system - maiden, mother, crone; birth, death, resurrection. We can talk to our children, have them read books, but how can we illustrate cycles to them? Try gardening. Think: a plant starts from a seed, matures, flowers, creates seeds and dies (if an annual). If it is a perennial, we will add to the cycle a period of dormancy and revive come spring. Think about the birth, growth, death and rebirth of the God. Think about the cycles of the Goddess from Maiden to Mother to Crone. How can you apply them? Within your own faith, consider how you can use gardening as a fun, educational tool. Even if you believe in no deity or deities, there is always a lesson hiding in the garden.
Children learn best when shown. How many of us adults used to turn out the boring drone of a teacher or send our minds to a better place during a religious school lecture? You can show a child pictures of cycles and plants or anything, but to get down and dirty and really into a project makes the best impression. The Earth is our Mother. Without her there would be no life. The God is the giver of life. Seeds start in the earth. The sun warms them, the skies send rain to make them grow. The cold sends the plants away until next cycle. Your child plants the seeds, provides water, fertilizer and is caretaker of the plant. Should he or she stop or not do so properly, the plant will perish. Should he or she do well, there will be a reward of a small bounty as well as seed for next growing season!
Pick seeds that germinate and grow rapidly. Remember, children tend to be impatient so not only will gardening teach them about cycles but also about patience!!! I like peas. The seeds are large enough for even relatively little hands to handle. They grow fast and can be planted earlier than many plants. They literally grow before your eyes and you can easily see the seed pods. When dry, peas can be kept for planting next season in a cool dry place. Plus, peas are tasty cold in salad or hot with butter. Peas grow in a variety of styles from bush to climbing. Should the child want to, he or she can grow several types of peas and other beans. I have successfully grown peas in 18" terra cotta pots. Line the bottom with a couple inches of gravel. Add a quality soil mixed with manure and compost (about 50% soil, 25% manure, 25% compost). Should you own you own cows, horses or chickens, make certain you rinse and compost the manure for six months before using. If you own rabbits (great manure) just rinse off urine and you can add the pellets directly to the soil. Should you not have a yard or a terrace, hook up a grow light over the pot. Your garden center can help you choose the best one. If you have enough room for a garden, section of part for the children, a 4' x 4' plot is enough to grow a few pea plants and other vegetables.
Another option I have had success with (indoors and out) is herbs - especially chives!!! In my garden is a patch of regular old chives (there are several varieties). In the spring, I let a section continue to grow without cutting them for use. Over the course of the growing season, they develop buds and eventually spherical, lavender colored flowers. The tiny blossoms making the sphere attract various insects to pollinate them. Then the flowers open and I can see a tiny black seed. Before the seeds burst out, I pick the blossoms and dry them. I have hung them in a bunch upside-down over paper towels or placed them in a vase without water and placed the vase on paper towels. As the flowers dry, the seeds will fall onto the towels. Gently shake the towels into a zip-closing bag or jar. All types of seeds can be stored in a cool, dry place until next growing season. With chives, the dried flowers are a pretty addition to wreaths.
As the plant goes through each of its cycles, explain to your child what is happening as it applies to your own faith. Make certain you use words appropriate for your child's age. Encourage your child to fertilize, weed and water the plants. This will teach responsibility and a reward for work: if you care and work for something ,you will get something in return. If you want to show your child what happens to a seed underground you can use this method of germination. In a clear jar or container tightly pack white paper towels. Dampen the paper towels and tuck seed along the sides of the jar so they are visible. Cover the jar with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot. Your child will be able to watch the root start them the sprout then eventually leaf buds. Then plant can them be transplanted into a sterile potting mixture.
If you decide to grow your plants in containers, use the opportunity for arts and crafts! Acrylic craft paint, brushes or sponges or varying shapes (all available at your local craft or even some home improvement centers) and terra cotta pots are all you and your child need to create wonderful and colorful planters (keep paint on the outside of the pot.) The parent may use a clear sealer if afraid the paint will wear off. Once again, do not paint or seal the interior. Older children can go through books and find religious symbols pertaining to plants, growth, rebirth to paint on the pots. Why not paint runes? Try decoupage with older children. Decoupage is a method of applying a glue to an object, applying pictures to the glue, applying more glue over them and then sealing it all when dry. (Once again, craft stores should carry these supplies). The best thing is to allow your child to be creative. Whatever he or she creates is from a personal source and cannot be wrong! If your four year old decides the pot needs a big orange dragon blowing purple fire, so be it. How many of us have seen a dragon?
As your child gains an understanding of cycles, the world and caring for nature, allow him or her more freedom with deciding what to plant. Many book stores both traditional and on-line carry various books for different age children regarding gardening as well as religious education for almost all faiths. Even young children can learn climate and planting zones - generally based on color and numbers. Older children can expand cycles and begin learning about micro-climates. All ages can learn about beneficial insects and those that can harm. This is also a good way to teach non-toxic methods of pest control. Craete as many fun lessons as possible from your garden. Allow your child to have fun, get dirty and you will be amazed at what he or she will learn. Last summer, my son, Connor learned that rocks do not taste good and if your mix water with Mommy's garden, you get a real neat mess and a bath!
A FEW PLANTING TIPS: (most of these are for outdoor plants be they in the ground or in pots)
Above all, have fun. Use this time not only to teach cycles and science but also to bond.
HERE ARE SOME PLANTS I HAVE FOUND EASY TO GROW IN BOTH POTS AND IN THE GROUND:
Mint (many types)
Basil (in pots in sun)