There are lots of things about gardening that children can learn from books.
Such as how to plant seeds, how much to water them and how to keep bugs away.
But some things, like the feel of warm soil on your hands and the sense of accomplishment when a plant grows, must be experienced to truly understand their joys and benefits, Kathe McIntosh said.
As a youth services assistant at the Jackson County Public Library in Seymour, McIntosh said she wants young readers to not only learn from books, but also from the world around them.
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That is why she came up with the Ready, Set, Dig! Growing Readers Garden Workshop, which is going on this summer.
Each Wednesday, McIntosh meets with kids at the Seymour Community Garden near Margaret R. Brown Elementary School for a hands-on lesson in how to grow vegetables and flowers.
“You can learn so many things through gardening, and I think starting early with kids is good,” she said.
The library rented a small plot in the garden this spring, and as a farmer’s wife, McIntosh thought it would be a great way to get kids interested in being outside and learning about nature.
There are usually eight to 12 children who attend regularly, along with parents and grandparents.
“Hopefully, they’ll learn to love it now so they will want to have their own garden when they are older,” she said. “Maybe even eat vegetables they think they don’t like.”
In the hour-long sessions, McIntosh first shares a book with the group, usually a picture book with a gardening theme, and then hands out the proper tools to spend time working in the dirt, including gloves, shovels, hoes and watering cans.
She was able to fund the program through a grant from the George Arthur Foundation and support from Union Hardware in Seymour, which donated seeds and plants.
Although educational and productive, the time spent in the garden also is just plain fun, McIntosh said.
On days when it’s raining, the group has met in the children’s program room at the library, where they were able to learn about container gardening, plant bean sprouts and the importance of worms, which McIntosh describes as the Earth’s digestive system.
Arabella Smith, 4, and her grandma, Kim Roberts, both of Seymour, said they have enjoyed being in the garden this summer.
Arabella brought her bean plant back to the community garden to plant because she doesn’t have her own garden at home, Roberts said.
“It grew big,” Arabella said.
“We were impressed,” Roberts added.
Arabella’s favorite lesson so far has been learning about the worms, her grandmother said.
“Some of them said, ‘Ewww,’ but by the time it was over, they were playing with them,” Roberts said.
The two spend a lot of time at the library, and Roberts said she thought the gardening program sounded like something they would like to do.
“She loves getting dirty,” Roberts said of her granddaughter.
Recently, the group harvested fresh basil leaves from the garden that they were able to take home and eat. They also pulled weeds, watered their plants, including tomatoes, beans, potatoes, cabbages, herbs and some flowers, and sprayed diluted Dawn dish soap on some of the plants that showed signs of Japanese beetles.
They buried eggshells and tea bags around the plants to help put nutrients back into the soil.
“We want to do everything organically,” McIntosh said.
Teaching gardening also is a way to teach children how to use problem-solving skills and finish tasks, she said.
“Farmers and gardeners are some of the greatest problem solvers,” she said. “We have some problems out here that we need to fix, and I’m going to show you some different ways to do that, some good and some not good, so you know the difference.”
And to be good stewards of the garden and helpful neighbors, they even watered and weeded nearby plots.
“Gardening is about being a part of a community and helping each other out,” McIntosh said. “I’m passionate about teaching kids gardening. It’s educational, it’s physical, it’s emotional. There are so many things that tie into the well-being of yourself and the community. Gardening can make your life a lot healthier in so many ways.”
Brady Hageman, 5, and his mom, Nikki Hageman of Seymour, also said they have enjoyed the program and plan to keep attending through the fall.
“He’s really shy, but he loves doing things outside,” Nikki said. “I thought this would be a good way for him to socialize and meet other kids.”
Jacinda Vasquez, 6, of Seymour, has quite the green thumb and has taken to gardening easily, her mother, Gisela Hinojosa, said.
Jacinda said her bean plant grew the fastest, and at home, she has even successfully grown avocados.
The most important task in taking care of plants is to make sure they have enough water, Jacinda said.
“She wants to come here all the time to check on the plants and take care of them,” Hinojosa said.
What McIntosh said she hopes to impress on the children is that they don’t have to be an expert to be successful at gardening or anything else.
“If you know how to read, you can garden,” she said. “If you know how to read, you can cook. You don’t have to know how to do something. Just jump in, and you can find out answers as you go.”
To go along with the Jackson County Public Library’s mission to help patrons connect, learn and grow, it is presenting the Ready, Set, Dig! Growing Readers Garden Workshop.
The workshop is for kindergartners through fifth-graders. Meetings will be from 9 to 10 a.m. Wednesdays through July 27 and from 5 to 6 p.m. Aug. 3 through 31 at the community garden at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School, 550 Miller Lane, Seymour.
These weekly one-hour workshops will focus on and encourage a lifetime connection with nature, healthy eating habits, organic gardening, problem solving, self-reliance and community awareness.
Transportation will not be provided. Participants should dress to get dirty. During inclement weather, the program will be at the Seymour Library, 303 W. Second St.
For information about this program, the Get in the Game, READ! summer reading program or any of the other programs and events offered at the Jackson County Public Library, visit the library’s website at myjclibrary.org or call 812-522-3412, option 2, in Seymour, 812-793-2927 in Crothersville or 812-966-2278 in Medora.