Growing and connecting the keys of KidsGardening
by Courtney Llewellyn
Kids introduced to gardening at a young age are more likely to become lifelong horticulture enthusiasts, and with more people gardening than ever, it’s a perfect time to get involved with youth gardening. So believe the organizers of KidsGardening, a nonprofit dedicated to that exact topic.
A national organization, KidsGardening, based in Vermont, was founded in 1982. For nearly four decades, they’ve been supporting youth gardens across the country with both materials and grant funding. Today, they provide 2.6 million children with garden-based learning.
“At-home gardening with kids is still growing,” said Em Shipman, KidsGardening executive director. “Not only are they growing food, but they’re feeding their senses. Being outdoors is emotionally regulating, and it’s more important than ever to get outside after last year.”
Shipman explained her organization provides effective tools for hands-on, experiential learning. And the garden is the ultimate learning lab. “It promotes a growth mindset, where we learn from our mistakes,” she said. “There are no accidents. We just learn how to do things differently the next time. It teaches humility.”
Individuals who believe their talents can be cultivated (through hard work, good strategies and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts), according to Carol Dweck, the Lewis & Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. A growth mindset can help kids reframe how they view challenges. And what better place to grow than a garden?
When the pandemic hit in 2020, spring had just sprung, and KidsGardening saw month over month increases in people requesting information. They created “Lessons to Grow By” for caregivers, offering free weekly lessons for home learning. They were extremely popular, and Shipman said they’re working on turning them into video courses. (On the school side, they saw more teachers than ever requesting grants to help them get their students outside while schools were closed.)
They’ve kept their momentum going by launching KidsGarden Community, a free way for caregivers and kids to connect with each other and meet locally. There are over 600 participants in the community already, connecting, getting answers, sharing resources and finding inspiration, according to Shipman.
“Having that local context and that personal contact is really helpful,” she said. “People can even form their own sub-communities – like homeschoolers, for example – to get more connected.”
The KidsGarden Community is looking to partner with industry leaders that hope to inspire the next generation of horticulturists. “We really want to support access to nature for everyone,” Shipman said.