Fill in the blank:
Kids nowadays ___________.
If you answered “like to plug themselves in and play indoors,” then you obviously remember a time when it was cool to play outside, where the wild things are.
In my coastal neighborhood in suburban O’ahu, my mom planted green onions next to the pomegranate bush while I lifted rocks and played with sow bugs and earthworms. I watched sassy red cardinals swoop in and peck out snacks from our brilliant yellow sunflowers growing all in a row taller than our clothesline. I chased hapless termites and geckos on hot summer nights, sucked on oranges grown at sea level that stayed green but were sweet nonetheless.
That seems like eons ago, yet the memories remain indelible. I remember the warmth of the sun and salty ocean breezes, the sweet-tartness of the lemonade I made and sold in the front yard for 3 cents a glass, the buzz of honeybees circling around the dazzling magenta portulaca along the sidewalk in front of our house. Why are these images so vivid in my mind’s eye even now?
Children experience the natural world in a very direct way; unlike most adults, their sense of wonder and appreciation of the beauty of nature is still intact. Young minds are not jaded or cynical, young bodies do not ignore the sensations of everyday phenomena the way that desensitized adults’ do.
At the Hamakua Alive! Festival at Pauuilo School, I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Koh Ming Wei, director/educator of the Hawaii Sustainable Eduation Initiative, a Waldorf-based program in Honoka'a, and HSEI student Serafima Carlson, age 11. Serafima presented me with bookmarker she decorated with her own scientific drawing of the life cycle of a butterfly, and then proceeded to explain the different herbs she had potted up and offered for sale. Meanwhile, another student practiced his math, counting up cash and figuring out the profits for the day. Whoever thinks gardening with kids is only an opportunity for socialization has some serious waking up to do.
Nancy Redfeather, program director of the Kohala Center's island-wide Hawai'i Island School Garden Network, was also at the festival with luscious produce from a one-acre market farm being worked by twelve high school students from Kohala. These youth are learning skills to make a living and gaining self-confidence through real-life, hands-on experiences. This is but a glimpse of the beauty and magic that is evolving here with kids and gardens, and it makes me proud of the spirit and energy of those involved: students, teachers, farmers, activists, and all other deeply concerned citizens of our community.
For more information on the Hawaii Island School Garden Network, contact Nancy Redfeather at the Kohala Center.