Ask The Hort Agent: Children and Gardening

  • Posted: Friday, December 13, 2013 9:22 a.m.
    UPDATED: Friday, December 13, 2013 9:24 a.m.

Question: What is the best way to help kids develop a love of gardening?

Answer: North Carolina tops all other states in a few categories – outdoor theater, lightning strikes to people (except Florida) and reported cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever.  I contend they are all related.  Most Carolinians already understand the importance of “experiencing” something in order to understand and/or appreciate it.

Take Christmas for example.  It is common to hear people complain about other folks losing the meaning of Christmas.  People complain about its commercialization.  Rudolph, Santa, candy canes and snow don't really have anything to do with the real meaning of Christmas.  Folks gripe about this as they feverishly shop, wrap and overextend their budget.

Growing up in Gates County North Carolina, I had a brother, sister and 5 cousins that lived close by.  My mother was concerned about us understanding the real meaning of Christmas.  She decided to help us understand by living it.  Every Christmas three of my cousins joined us on Christmas Eve to act out the Christmas story.  A couple of years we had all the cousins in the action.  Those years we added a “Christmas Around the World” segment for good measure.  

Mama made costumes, wrote the script and directed the play.  We typically had an audience of 10 or 12 family members.  Of course everybody took part in the singing that was scattered in the dialogue.  It didn't take long before we had memorized Luke 2:1-20.  The short scripture seemed to be tailor made for the limited movement we could provide in our small home.  Mama's costumes and props were always top of the line.  Every year she would sew new costumes for us growing kids.     

For several years, Uncle Terry videotaped the event with his 8 millimeter movie camera.  Back in the 70s video cameras required a lot of light.  The bright light Uncle Terry used for the camera made the play seem like real theater.  It also doubled as the bright light of the angel on the shepherds.

The angel told the shepherds to “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  As children we understood that the angel was announcing the birth of Jesus.   We understood that celebrating Christmas was the celebration of Jesus' birthday.     

We all put up Christmas trees, opened presents and watched the animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer show on tv.  However, through a reenactment in our living room we experienced the real reason for the season every year.  Mama was successful in putting Christ back in Christmas because she designed it as an experience that was participatory and not simply viewed.

There is a Chinese proverb I often quote.  It says, “Tell me.  I forget.  Show me.  I remember.  Involve me. I understand.”

Children and adults will experience something at Christmas.  Their reality is whatever we expose them to.  Commercialization, Jesus and love are not things that simply happen to us.  They are things we understand through experience and perpetuation.

Whether we want children to understand Christmas or gardening, we have to involve them.  When they experience it, they understand.  Rocky Mountain spotted fever and an occasional lightning bolt is a price Carolinians willingly pay to experience and understand the outdoors.

For further info pertaining to this message, visit If you don't have access to the internet, then contact me at (910) 893-7530 or Most of this article was written by me and published in the 2013 December issue of the Carolina Gardener magazine.

Gary Pierce
Horticulture Agent
Harnett County Cooperative Extension

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