Children and gardens are a natural match – dirt,
insects, dirt, bright colors, dirt, shiny tools, dirt, water, dirt…you get the
idea. From age three and up, gardening is a wonderful activity to share with
your child. It introduces an appreciation for the earth and environment, as well
as teaching them responsibility, patience, and the relationship between cause
Many of us cherish the childhood memory of
proudly planting our first seeds in a Styrofoam cup, our names printed on the
side in large, scrawling letters. With breathless anticipation, we awaited the
first tender green shoots to curl up from the dirt. The same thought, in one
form or another, ran through each of our minds. I made that happen.
One of the quickest ways to interest your child
in gardening is to let them choose what they’d like to grow. Then designate a
small plot of land just for them. It’s also a good idea to do a quick site
inspection. Remove branches and boards, pick up sharp tools, and set-up the
kids garden away from the rose bushes. Use flour to map out a fun shape like a
circle, star, or triangle; then let the kids do the digging.
Kids love having their own mini-set of gardening
tools. For young children, this can be a kitchen spoon with which to dig dirt,
or a plastic sand shovel and pail.
Before heading outside, emphasize that your child is not to put anything in
their mouths without your approval. Instinct will tell them to pop a ripe fruit
or vegetable into their mouths, but some things can be dangerous. Avoid growing
plants that can be harmful to humans when eaten. Surprisingly, some of these
include commonly grown plants such as daffodils, members of the lily family,
eggplant leaves, rhubarb leaf blades, tomato leaves-vines-and sprouts. Some
fertilizers and chemicals look like brightly colored candy. Unless your child
is older, don’t allow them to handle fertilizer at all, and then only with
rubber gloves and your supervision. The best alternative would be to use organic
Are We There Yet?
You might be able to plow a field in a
day, but kids have notoriously short attention spans. Accommodate their needs.
Forcing them to finish diminishes the fun, so plan on breaking tasks up and
taking several days to plant the garden.
Seeds that are big enough for kids to work with include sunflowers, squash,
beans, corn, marigolds, and morning glories. Also, regardless of what you and
your child decide to plant, it’s a good idea to throw some quick crops into the
mix. Radishes sprout in 3-4 days and the quick turnaround may hold your child’s
interest until the other crops appear.
Other fast growers include baby salad greens, turnips, and scallions. Broccoli
and potatoes are also fairly fast. These aren’t kids favorite foods. However,
their interest in witnessing their plants grow may entice the most finicky eater
to try a bite of his very own homegrown turnips.
Fun In The Sun
Kids love variety. Try some of the activities
below to add a little excitement to the garden.
- Carve your child’s name or initials into a
small pumpkin or watermelon, then watch as their monogram enlarges as the
- Create a pizza /pie garden. Use rocks or
sticks to outline a circle, then use rocks and sticks again to divide the
circle into slices. Plant a different flower or vegetable in each slice.
This works well if you have several children and want to give them each a
- Kids love big, bold colors, and sunflowers
are a favorite. Make a sunflower house by planting sunflowers in a square
- For older kids, hold a watermelon
seed-spitting contest. Wherever the seeds land, agree that that’s where
you’ll grow the melons.
- Use Popsicle sticks for row markers – have
younger children draw pictures with brightly colored markers.
- Plant your child’s name, either with flowers
or alfalfa seed.
- Make a fairy garden by planting miniature
flowers and plants.
- Plant a garden in an old rubber boot or
washing tub. Drill holes in the bottom, cover with nylon and fill with
potting soil. Plant flower, mini-carrot, or leaf lettuce seeds.
- Kids of all ages love permission to “play”
with water, so assign them watering duty.
- Smaller children may just enjoy digging in
the dirt. If you’re going for Mom or Dad of the Year, add some water and let
them enter mud-pie heaven.
When gardening with kids, let go of the need for
perfection. The smile of delight on your child’s face as they watch their plants
grow is more important than straight rows and evenly spaced plants. And remember
to pay attention to what your child teaches you. When was the
last time you turned over a rotten log to see what was creeping and crawling
underneath? Or chased a butterfly around the yard?
Start your kids off early with these simple yet
fun gardening activities and watch as the love of nature and gardening takes
root in your child.