[Marie Catrett owns and operates Tigerlily Preschool in south Austin. She likes to get messy and write about it.]
Happy Earth Day! Tending to the garden- the soil, our growing plants and all the little creatures there- is a big part of our day. About a fourth of our outdoor space is an organic veggie garden. It’s been my experience that when little ones have a hand in planting the seeds, watering the plants and discovering the harvest they will take incredible care with the space. Wagons roll by, play breaks just short of the beds. Teaching little feet to respect the bedspace does take some intention and effort. The change in soil usually makes a great visual marker for small feet needing to know where the rambling can stop and the tender plant space begins. Sometimes I’ll use a line of small stones or even aquarium gravel to make a “line”. I do my gardening in plain old raised dirt beds and my heart really feels the tug I think the kiddos feel towards how fun it would be to, say, take a flying leap and stomp the dirt mounds flat. But with a few reminders they really do extremely well with the limit. It’s hardest when the plants are teeny tiny seedlings or before anything sprouts. Again, visual markers are my friend. We also do a lot of practice making our feet go around. Free form digging gets redirected to our sandbox, except on one very memorable day, one of my favorite days ever. Dirt Day.
Back in September the children helped prep a garden bed before planting a fresh crop of leafy winter veggies. As a gardener I’ll admit I get impatient with some of the more practical aspects of gardening- and in the past I can’t say soil prep was my favorite. Add children, however, it’s a whole different thing. Two’s, three’s and four’s with shovels, turning the earth? Oh yes. Yes they can, most happily. We spent a morning pulling out stray rocks, taking care with the earthworms, being both amazed and disgusted at the sight of those strange pale grubs. We talked about compost and added the lovely turkey mix from The Natural Gardener. I did not manage to capture and can only tell you about the best image: later in the day after buckets and worms and mountains and holes our happy diggers were full of so much dirt love the only thing left to do was to lie belly down on the dirt just being…well, truly one with the joy that was dirt day.