Kids gardening: These simple tips will help encourage your children to get their hands dirty and join you in the garden. Kids and nature belong together!!
As I sit here waiting for Spring to unfold, I find myself constantly thinking about our mother’s greenhouse from our childhood, and yearning for one of my own. Like our mother, her greenhouse was petite in size, yet glorious to behold. With a patinaed metal frame, her greenhouse was filled with windows and natural light, and smelled of the earth and flowers. As children, we spent a lot of time in her greenhouse – crawling on the dirt-covered floor, playing hide-and-seek among the raised beds, and just watching our beautiful mother tend to her precious plants.
Now I may just be waxing nostalgic right now, but isn’t that what all gardeners do? We dream, we sketch, we plant, we tend – and then we start all over again? Why of course it is, and it’s this harmonious cycle that had grounded me for as many years as I care to count.
So it’s only natural that when I had children of my own, I encouraged them to run wild (and naked) with nature from the very get-go. Before they could walk or talk, they were outside, on a blanket in the grass, under a shady tree staring up at the big blue sky above. Then, when they started to crawl, they followed us (and the dogs and the cats) about the yard wherever we would go. Eventually, they learned to walk, and found the hose, and that was the end of our beautiful, green lawn — but, the start of their love of the water, and so it goes…
I am grateful that my childhood was full of dirt and flowers, and equally grateful that our children’s lives are too, but unfortunately, not every child gets a chance to “be one with nature”. As we hear more and more about “Nature Deficit Disorder“, I am truly saddened by the concept. For how can any child truly be deprived of nature? It’s where we go to unwind. It’s where we go for exercise. It’s where we go to use our imaginations. Plus, as any sweaty, dirt-covered, grass-picker knows, nature makes you calmer and much more pleasant to be around. So, if you’re interested in getting your kids involved in gardening, here are some tips to get you started.
10 EASY WAYS TO GET KIDS GARDENING
1.) Take them to a local garden store.
Stand back and let them peruse the indoor and outdoor plant displays. I was really surprised to watch my kids make a beeline for the succulent display and flip out over all of their options.
Have you ever seen Succulent Plant Baby Toes? The name alone had them laughing their butts off – and fyi, they really do resemble green, little, baby toes. After their giggles subsided, they decided to go home with Succulent Plant Aeonium Kiwi and Succulent Plant Purple Split Rock Lapidaria Margaretae.
2.) Get a compost bin.
Our kids are really into recycling and love when we can find new ways to use our “trash”. Composting is a really neat way to show them how our discarded fruit and vegetable scraps can be turned into food for our gardens.
From bottle birdfeeders, to juice box flower pots, to sandbox gardens, we’re always trying to figure out if we can use our trash before it becomes trash. So recycling our fruits and veggies has become just another way to make something new out of something old. (We use a tumbler-style compost bin from Gardener’s Supply.)
3.) Make them the decision makers.
I decided a long time ago that if I wanted my kids to play with me in the garden, I had to let them be the decision makers. This means we grow lots of really random things each year, but it also means that my kids are fully vested in tending to their plants and trying what we grow.
Last year, we grew watermelons, strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, red peppers and an assortment of herbs – basil, parsley, chives, tarragon and thyme.
4.) Buy (or make) a rain barrel so they can see how to conserve water.
This year, we’re adding a rain barrel to our yard. In the past, we’ve just angled the gutter spouts into the nearby beds, but it is a pain to move them around when the landscapers come. (Yes, we use landscapers to mow our lawn…)
I think our kids will really appreciate how much water falls out of the sky when they can look into the rain barrel and water their vegetable garden.
5.) Give them their own age-appropriate tools.
This is huge. Our kids each have their own tool bags with their own tools in them. When they first started out in the garden with us, we bought these some really cute Melissa & Doug Gardening Totes. They came with plastic tools and were completely appropriate for them at that age.
Now that they’re older, they have metal tools and rakes like this Toysmith Kid’s Big Tool Set.
6.) Record their progress.
Our kids are also big into journals and sketchpads right now. We don’t have anything fancy per say – I just buy them notepads whenever I see them in the dollar bins. (Target and Michaels have great ones!)
They recently started a Garden Journal for a Seed Starting project that we’re doing, and their entries are fantastic. Our daughter, at 5, is still spelling phonetically, so it’s a blast watching her sound everything out. These little gems will be stashed away in their Mommy Bins once they’re through with them.
7.) Pick fruits and vegetables together – and then eat them!
The best part of planting a fruit and vegetable garden is getting to harvest it – and then eat it! In the summer months, we eat almost all of our meals outside and the kids really enjoy picking vegetables right out of “their garden” to use in a salad, meal or dessert.
It’s exciting to watch their faces light up as we “ooh” and “ahh” over the carrots, cucumbers and strawberries that they bring to the table. I love seeing their little chests puff up with pride as we gobble down their produce.
8.) Start small.
A garden can be as big or small as you imagine it to be. If this is your first year gardening with your kids, you may just want to pot up a few containers. This way, your children can learn how to take care of their plants without feeling the additional stress of planting way too many things.
Gardening takes patience, love, and a bit of hard work to flourish, so try to encourage them to pick easy to grow crops at first. For example, we successfully grow cucumbers, zucchini, peas, peppers and herbs in pots in our area – these are good choices for a first garden. Potatoes are also fairly easy to grow!
9.) Share the excess with others.
Our kids also have a fondness for growing zucchini (they love the yellow flowers) and cherry tomatoes (they’re just SO cute), which means that we always have lots, and lots, and lots of zucchini and tomatoes on hand. If you’ve grown either of these vegetables before, you know that at some point, you’ve eaten them so many times, you’ll gag if you eat them again.
This is when we start sharing our bounty with Grandma! The kids love packaging up a bunch of veggies to take over to Grandma’s house and then they grill her about what she’s going to make with them! If Grandma doesn’t live nearby, consider sharing it with co-workers, neighbors, friends, family or your local food bank.
10.) Last, but certainly not least – Have fun!
Gardening should be FUN for your kids, so let go of any preconceived notions you have about how something should look. If your daughter insists that she wants to plant a bed of Dinnerplate Dahlias and stake some big ‘ole pink flamingos right in the middle of it – try not to freak out! (We’ve been there before; this past Halloween, our son insisted that we have an army of Zombie Flamingos planted in our Fall gardening beds.)
If you try to control their artistic views of what should be planted where, they’ll quickly tire of gardening with you, and then you’ll be back to gardening alone. Sadly, we only have our children within our reach for a short while, so why not let your gardens grow wild while your kids still want to play in them, eh?
Get dirty, be happy,