“The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.”
—George Bernard Shaw
In the book of Genesis, God planted a garden – not a city, desert or wilderness – to provide a place of beauty and tranquility for the first human beings to live. Ever since, the garden has provided us with endless lessons about God, faith and character.
In “Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening,” Pennsylvania author Fran Sorin explains how a garden – whether it’s just a shelf of potted plants, a little patch of dirt, a neighborhood’s community garden, or your own vast and formal oasis – can transport and transform a person if they open themselves up to enjoy it.
So it makes sense for parents to turn to their own back yards and use seeds, flowers and fruit trees as ways to explain to their children the cyclical nature of life, abstract concepts like Christ’s death and resurrection, and the importance of tending our spiritual lives.
“Gardening is an excellent metaphor,” says Katie Dawson, director of Parish Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange. “Anything that connects dynamic growing things with an explanation of our connection to live and God the creator is a helpful moment. Too often parents don’t recognize the potential of our playfulness and enjoyment of nature as opportunities to connect children’s lessons.”
An everyday thing like a garden taps into the whole human experience, providing children with a ready entryway into learning. “Children connect what they’ve learned to their lived experience, so we want to provide a range of ways they can do that,” Dawson suggests. “Fresh air, the beauty of the garden, the enjoyment of working with your hands to make something grow – these are powerful memory-building experiences. By virtue of providing children with these pleasures we are doing something of substance.”
At Easter, Dawson recalls, she used to help her young children fill little bowls with soil, sprinkle seeds on top, and grow small patches of grass. “It’s very magical for kids to see how fast it can grow,” she says, “and it’s nice for nestling Easter eggs into the grass. The important thing is keeping it light – Easter is a fun time for children of any age.”
An old adage declares that more than a seed is planted in a garden. It’s well known, too, that helping plan, plant and tend a garden can cultivate life skills and character traits such as responsibility, independence, leadership, empathy, teamwork and problem-solving.
The tactile nature of gardening can have a lasting impression on children, Dawson says. “Children are very conscious of their senses. This is a great opportunity for kinesthetic learning; touching is an often-neglected learning mode.”
Participating in planting a seed and watching it grow provides children with a powerful experience. “It’s incarnational,” Dawson explains. “We have faith embodied. It involves touching and feeling. Jesus was incarnated.” She adds that even young children are remarkable spiritual, with keen intuitions about God.
“A lot depends upon the parent and their sensitivity to their child’s learning mode, but they can understand that Jesus conquered death and rose again,” Dawson notes. “If we are with Jesus then we can conquer death also. Kids get that, and grow into a deeper understanding.”
At the very least, gardening teaches children where their food comes from and the amount of energy it requires to grow, transport, store and prepare it. And when they have a relationship to the natural world, they are prepared to make wise decisions about it as they mature.
As author Sorin extols in her gardening book, “Play with dirt. Play with ideas. Play with new projects. Play with possibilities – every single day of your life.”