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Growing Patience

“Mommy! Look at this!” my youngest shouts, bouncing down the hall.
I’d love to look, but I’m too busy picking dried-up fruit snacks out of the living room carpet. “In a minute, sweetie,” I shout over my shoulder.
Thirty brief seconds pass.
“Mommy!” The voice gets louder . . . and the bouncing gets closer.
“Hold on!”
I make a mental note to stick with goldfish crackers next time. At least they vacuum easily.

Ten more seconds pass . . .
“But Mom, LOOK!” a voice blares in my ear.”
“Just wait! I’m almost—”
But before I can finish, a Lego mini-figure is being shoved up my left nostril.

We all know that being patient is a challenge for kids.

Managing expectations

Part of this is simply the age. Little ones are still learning to manage their expectations and emotions—and their Legos! But part of it is also a result of our culture’s increasing “need for speed.” The expectation is that all our needs will be met with just a click. Our addiction to instant gratification. A video takes more than five seconds to load on our phones, and we sigh in exasperation. The checkout line at the grocery store moves at anything less than Aldi speed, and we grumpily check our phones and roll our eyes. We order something online and it DOESN’T arrive on our doorstep in two days. Such slow shipping!

If we, as adults, are being conditioned to be impatient, imagine the effect on our kids!

So how do we combat a culture that is always looking for a quick fix? How do we teach our kids the virtue of patience? The answer might be right in our own backyards!

Every year for the past ten years or so, my husband, Mike, has planted a vegetable garden in our backyard. At first, it was his personal project, but gradually, the rest of the family got involved in it too. The kids would help water, I’d occasionally help pick tomatoes, and soon it was a family affair. Over those ten years, Mike and I have found that planting and nurturing a backyard garden is one of the best ways to grow patience—in children and adults!

Here’s how:

Gardens get kids off of screens and into the great outdoors.

Modern technology is probably the biggest contributor to society’s decreasing attention span. YouTube videos, social media posts, and fast-paced video games all condition us to identify something we want and obtain it—within a span of seconds. Nature, on the other hand, moves at a much slower pace. Watching a bee pollinate zucchini flowers or a bird build a nest can be just as captivating as YouTube—but commands our attention over a longer period of time. There’s no constant temptation to click on the next video . . . and the next. Our brains are ALLOWED to really focus. Getting kids off of screens and out into nature is a huge step towards building patience.

Gardens provide slow but steady visual rewards.

Continually saying, “You just have to be patient,” or offering rewards in the form of treats at the end of a long wait at the doctor’s office doesn’t really build patience. It just teaches kids to be impatient quietly! But a daily walk through a backyard garden is an exercise in patience. Juicy red tomatoes don’t appear overnight, and flowers take time to bloom. Over the years, my kids have gone from whining about being forced to help in the garden, to giving unprompted daily reports on the appearance of tiny potato sprouts and the size of the season’s first cantaloupe. When each day holds the promise of some new small discovery, waiting becomes the reward.

Planning for the next year requires a long-term approach.

In addition to the daily practice of patience, gardening, by its nature, requires long-term planning. When the harvest is over and the plants begin to die, thoughts turn to what to plant next year. How does the soil need to be prepared? Can some plants weather the winter months? Young kids don’t have the long-term responsibilities of mortgages and insurance bills that adults have. In fact, most of them don’t think much farther than the homework that’s due the next day. But garden planning encourages them to think long-term and, in doing so, develop patience.

You don’t have to have a green thumb to start a backyard garden. It can be as simple as one or two tomato plants in pots on the patio or a sunflower started from seed on the windowsill.

Give it a try! You might find that your patience grows even more than your veggies!

Chelsea Tornetto is an author, world geography teacher, and SCBWI member who has loved writing ever since she was a kid. Her first book, Conquering Content Vocabulary, was published by Scholastic in 2018, but now her passion is picture books. Chelsea lives in Jackson, Missouri with her husband, Mike, and her two kids, Tessa and Milo. She loves snow days, lattes, and Target. She hates spiders, her sinuses, and laundry. You can find her online and on her website.

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