Gardening: a way to get boys engaged in outdoor play while also teaching valuable lessons about nutrition, the environment, and hard work. And the best part is that while gardening is hard work, most boys hardly notice it because playing in the garden is also lots of fun.
Here are five things boys love about gardening:
1. Critters. Boys are known for bringing home creepy-crawlies, and gardens are chock-full of critters of all sizes. This year in our garden, we’ve spotted ladybugs, spiders, raccoons, even a deer. My boys never tire of searching for and catching crawling things, or imagining which animals left each paw/hoof/claw print in the soil.
2. Dirt. Like macaroni and cheese, boys and dirt just go together. And a garden has plenty of the brown stuff. We sometimes take sand buckets and shovels to the garden and let our two-year-old play in the dirt while we plant, weed or harvest, and he loves it. My mom used to say when our bathwater turned brown, she knew we’d had a fun day — and after spending time in the garden, my boys’ bathwater is never clear.
3. Destruction. Last week before school started back, I was reflecting on the summer with my four-year-old and asked him what he liked best about helping in the garden this summer. I’m not sure what I expected to hear (“watching our seeds grow into delicious food” would have worked), but I was surprised to hear him say, “whacking down all the corn stalks after the corn was gone.” What boy doesn’t love a little destruction? And in a garden, you get to tear everything up and start all over again every year (or twice a year, if you plant in the fall and the spring).
4. Food. If you have boys, you know they like to eat. And nowhere will you find as much fresh, nutritious, delicious food as in a vegetable garden. My four-year-old loves to eat cherry tomatoes right off the vine, and just-picked squash, corn, and peppers also make great snacks in the garden (as long as you haven’t used harmful pesticides). Even if your boys don’t eat the garden’s bounty right there in the dirt, they’re likely to enjoy cooking and eating the veggies they’ve helped grow.
5. Time. As with most family activities, the best thing about gardening together is the “together” part. And because most young boys can’t grow a garden by themselves, time spent in the garden is time spent with an adult he cares about. My boys love playing with each other or with other kids, kicking a ball or digging in the sandbox, but getting out in the garden seems to be a special treat because the whole family’s getting dirty with them.