With springtime comes gardening, and with gardening comes a deeper connection with nature. And children are no exception. Whether they’re digging in the dirt, composting food waste, planting seeds and plants or harvesting the fruits of their labors, gardening energizes kids. It also stimulates their creativity, says Barbara Levinson, a member of the Education and Development Department at Bright Horizons Family Solutions.
“Nature is ever changing, so gardening can stimulate children’s curiosity.”
Digging in the dirt together also provides busy parents the chance to slow down and enjoy some time with the kids away from cell phones, tablets and laptops. If you’re interested in getting in the garden with your kids, check out these suggestions to help you grow fun family memories and a successful crop.
Plan to plant. A garden plan can keep your crops organized each season and help you keep track of where you planted items. “If your kids have a small garden area, your plan can simply be jotting down what they want to grow and some notes as the season goes along related to what you did to tend to the garden, etc. That’s really all you need,” says Mike Podlesny, father of two sons ages 4 and 6, author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A Guide to Vegetable Gardening for the Rest of Us and creator of the Seeds of the Month Club.
“I teach my kids to write down what and when they planted as a good exercise for their learning.”
Give them space. The perfect scenario is space for your children to have their own garden. However, many families find it necessary to share planting room. If you’re sharing the garden with your kids, define an area that’s specifically for their plants.
Ideally, try to allow enough room for tiny feet to navigate around your plants. Each of my children gets their own small garden area about three feet square, says Podlesny.
Let them pick. “I give them a few choices of different veggies that will show great results, such as tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers. Kids know these veggies and can recognize them. Then I let them choose what they want to grow,” says Podlesny.
Narrowing down the options to those that all require the basics of watering, harvesting, etc., increases a child’s likelihood of success and helps them maintain interest in the garden long after the first sprouts break through the earth.
“My kids love growing and harvesting carrots because it’s like a treasure hunt. You can’t actually see the carrot, so they enjoy finding the treasure when it’s time to harvest,” says Podlesny.
Keep age in mind. It’s important to make sure plants in the garden are “kid-friendly,” says Levinson. She suggests families consider plants that:
- have large seeds appropriate for small fingers to handle.
- grow quickly so children can see the fruits of their labor.
- appeal to children’s senses, with interesting fuzzy leaves, colorful flowers or strong scents (but be aware of allergies).
- produce edible fruit and vegetables that the children can eat.
- produce interesting flowers that children can cut, dry, etc.
- have interesting characteristics, such as are carnivorous and eat flies.
Fill up their tool box. Splurging on some inexpensive, pint-sized garden tools can help kids dig gardening. “I suggest each child have their own garden tool set that, ideally, is made from a rigid plastic,” says Podlesny. Most home and garden centers sell them for less than $10.
“Having their own inexpensive tools lets kids feel like they are part of the whole garden working experience. When Mom or Dad gets out their rake or shovel, the kids can grab theirs for everyone to work together on a project.”
However you can also repurpose household items to serve as garden tools. “Children can also do amazing things with a wooden spoon and a stick,” adds Levinson.
Play games. Levinson says garden games can add an element of levity while still teaching kids about gardening. These are some of her favorites:
- Pretend to be a spy. Take turns spying something in the garden and giving hints about it. Say “I spy with my little eye something green,” and then send your kids off on a hunt to find what you “spy.”
- Go on a scavenger hunt. Set a timer and search for leaves, pine cones, rocks, etc., in the garden or yard.
- Journal the experience. Encourage older children to keep a gardening journal. They can photograph or draw the progress of different plants, include interesting facts about the plants, and insects that visit the plants, and write about their observations and the experiences of gardening.
- Accessorize with nature. Levinson suggests parents help young children make nature bracelets. Simply wrap a piece of masking tape around their wrist (allow a little slack room so it’s not too tight) placing the sticky side facing up. Then send kids outside to stick seeds, leaves, twigs, flower petals and other natural flair to the tape.
Get more great ideas for gardening with kids at our “A Child’s Garden” Pinterest board.