Working the Room with Worms
There was a look of surprise on the faces in the audience when I dumped out a tub of worms into my hands and started walking around the room, with my hands out to show everyone. “Do you want to touch it, or hold it?” I asked, holding the worms out to each kid I passed.
Some smiled and touched the worms, but many gave a simple shake of the head. And a few moved back in their seat with an expression on their face like it was the grossest and most disgusting thing that they had ever seen.
It was 2015, and, at the age of 9, I was giving one of my first garden presentations with my dad. It really surprised me that so many kids and adults moved away from the worms.
But the worms got everyone’s attention! And it only took one little girl to touch a worm for the rest of the kids, who had previously said no, to move closer and think about touching them. Soon, almost all of the kids had gathered around me, eager to be part of the action and be near the wiggly little worms in my hand. Some kids let out a squeal of delight when I put a worm on their hand. A few of the kids took worms over to show their parents too, who reluctantly touched them, to set a good example. A few kids were so excited they didn’t even want to let other kids take a turn. They just wanted to keep watching the worms wiggle in their hands.
Worms were what caught the attention of those kids who were at my talk about gardening. They were a surprise to the kids. And they were fun.
Some of them were excited enough that they even wanted to take the worms home! It was easy to see by their reaction. That reaction--that excitement--is what to watch for when finding fun gardening activities for a kid.
It might be worms, or it might be something else. But there is something to make gardening fun for every kid. My brother Keaton loves bugs. He turns over stones to find beetles, and moves firewood to collect slugs. He’s even had snail races. That’s what gets him excited about the garden. My brother Quinn is interested in birds. He collects bird feathers, has a few bird feeders in the garden and is interested in plants that attract birds. A project such as a sunflower house or bean teepee will be fun for some kids. For some kids, it might just be mud, and that’s OK.
In my case, one of the things that made gardening fun was unusual tomatoes and neat edible plants such as Dragon Tongue beans that have beautiful colors, cucamelons that are thumbnail sized but look like watermelons, chocolate-scented mint, and Black Nebula carrot that is a super dark purple. I love planting something in the garden, not knowing what to expect, and getting an amazing surprise – something like the heat-free habanero peppers I grew last year. I was never able to eat a habanero before and enjoy the fruitiness. And, of course, I love fresh veggies, particularly fresh tomatoes.
Getting kids excited about gardening is about finding something that is fun. They don’t have to like everything. And they don’t have to like doing things the way adults do. I don’t like weeding, and I don’t like eggplant. And I definitely don’t like having to share the garden with my dad because I want as much space as possible to grow unusual tomatoes!
Working that room with worms and seeing the reaction it got helped me see the importance of fun for kids. I’ve worked the room with worms at many kids events since that first talk when I was 9 years old, and when I know I’ll get them interested, listening and wanting to know more about gardening.
Emma Biggs raised over 130 tomato varieties in her Toronto garden in 2018—gardening in containers, in straw bales on a driveway, in a neighbour’s yard, in wicking beds under a walnut tree, and on her garage roof. Her latest book, Gardening with Emma, helps kids find the fun in gardening (and helps adults remember how much fun gardening is!)Emma is the co-host of The Garage Gardeners Radio Show. She is also a host of kids gardening videos on the From Dirt to Dishes gardening channel on YouTube. Stop by and say hi to Emma at www.emmabiggs.ca, or on Instagram @emmabiggs_grows.
We are including Emma's fantastic book, Gardening with Emma, in our April 2019 Kids Garden Month prize packages! We're awarding weekly and grand prizes, so there are lots of chances to win. The KidsGrow contest is open April 1-30 2019!