Gardening doesn’t have to be a grown-up activity; it can be a healthy and fun hobby that the entire family can enjoy together. Growing a garden with your child will help them acquire new skills and learn about science and nature from sprouting their own plants, flowers, and food. Benefits of maintaining a garden include increased levels of fitness and well-being, increased vegetable and healthy fruit consumption, and can also contribute to improved mental health.
To many people, particularly to those who are “green” to gardening, it can seem overwhelming to figure out how to involve your kids in what can be a fairly work intensive hobby. By getting them involved young you can begin a life-long love and appreciation of the literal fruits of their labor. Below are 16 ways to get kids involved in a long-lasting connection to nature and provide fond memories of their time in the garden.
16 Make the Garden Kid Friendly
Depending on the size of your green thumb, and your need for a perfectly manicured and curated garden, you may want to create a separate space for the kid or family plot where the focus should be on fun and exploration. For people who are rookies themselves, a simple plot of space for the entire family should work. If you don’t have much space, want to start small, or live in a high rise, consider looking into vertical gardening, planters, or window boxes to make the most of your space.
15 Involve Your Kids in the Planning Process
By letting your kids pick what they grow, or if they’re younger, picking foods or flowers you know they love, they’ll immediately be more attached to the project. As a child, I had a planter that was just mine, where I could pick out whatever I wanted (within reason) to grow (it was usually violets). Peas, strawberries, cabbage, sunflowers or walking stick kale can be fun planted items that are fairly easy to harvest.
14 Get Them Some Kid-sized Gardening Tools
Standard gardening tools can be too big and too heavy for little hands. You don’t need to spend a ton of money here. Many discount and dollar stores offer lighter, smaller versions of gardening gloves, watering pails and other tools that will help them help you.
If you don’t think that plastic toy versions of hoes, shovels, or spades are going to be durable enough for your child to actually garden you can consider cutting down larger equipment that you already own to make it kid sized and weighted. Alternatively, you can look for regular tools that are specifically designed to be lighter or explore the increasing number of higher quality and durable kid gardening supplies available for purchase.
13 Garden Frequently but in Small Bursts
It’s better not to force too much time in the garden with your child, especially if they are very young. A two-year-old can focus on a single activity (like weeding) for two to three minutes with an adult’s encouragement and help, whereas, by age three, a child can spend anywhere from three to eight minutes on a task they find interesting, and by six-years-old a child may be able to work independently on an activity for up to 30 minutes. Remember, not every session is going to be a success with laser sharp gardening focus, but don’t force it, this is supposed to be fun! Be consistent with regular sessions, but also patient when they get distracted.
12 Have Other Kid-friendly Activities Available
Sometimes you’re going to have to do most of the heavy lifting, wheelbarrowing, and weeding while your kid sits on the sidelines. This is because sometimes the tasks will be too difficult, and time intensive for them to participate. Other times they won’t feel like participating, but that doesn’t mean you need to pull them out of the garden. Having other outdoor activities like sidewalk chalk, bug houses, a sandbox, bubbles or even a ball handy to entertain them while they play alongside you while you are working will come in handy. Sometimes kicking a ball back and forth while you gather up compost can give you all the time you need to help your garden flourish, and grow.
11 Focus on the Function of the Kid Garden Over the Aesthetics
Maybe for the first few years of gardening things aren’t going to be perfectly pruned and landscaped, and that’s okay. This is about making them appreciate a garden that is designed for them, not posting Pinterest photos that will make your followers jealous, or for your ambitions to be on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. By adding in features like a bird bath or feeder, creating a fish or frog pond, or placing a small tent or fort nearby you can increase their interest in the cabbage patch and its adjacent space.
10 Never Use Gardening as a Punishment for Bad Behaviour
If you want to instill a long-term love of gardening in your kids, you probably don’t want to have them associate it with unwanted chores or punishment. That’s a quick way to turn a love affair into something that they are indifferent towards at best. Think of other chores or ways to have them redeem bad behavior outside of the garden.
9 Balance Activities Between Ones With Immediate and Ones With Delayed Results
As adults we all like to see results, whether it’s development of muscle after a month of sticking to a new gym routine or enjoying the sparkle of a newly organized and spring cleaned room; so why should we expect our kids to feel any differently? Make sure you spend some time doing things with immediate results (i.e. weeding and harvesting) whereas other times you focus attention on activities that don’t produce a bounty or visible results right away (like watering or seeding).
8 Consider Timing Your Harvest
Try to plant a garden with a variety of seedlings that will mature and be picking-ready at different times: baby carrots and romaine lettuce can be harvested just 30 days after planted. By staggering your harvest season there will be a greater period of reward in the garden. For later harvest items consider planting some larger root vegetables that won’t be ready to eat until autumn.
7 Look at Seeds and Seedlings that are Easier for Smaller Hands to Plant
If you want to get your little one to help you plant the garden you’ll probably want to reserve specific seeds for them. Very young kids have tiny hands and may have an easier time with smaller seeds than an adult might. For other kids who might do better with larger seeds consider giving them bean, melon, squash or marigold seeds.
6 Label Your Garden
Expand the activity by getting your kids to create flags or labels for what they’ve planted. These can be as practical or elaborate as you want with a variety of crafts available for inspiration. For older kids it can be a good way to practice their spelling or drawing pictures of the various crops that will be coming in the weeks and months ahead.
5 Let Them Get Dirty
The whole point of the garden is to help your child to connect with nature, beauty, science and the food they produce. A little dirt doesn’t hurt. Encourage your kids to really dig into the soil and get dirty. In the early days, before planting, consider turning on the sprinkler and let them frolic in the mud, jump in muddy puddles and produce a couple of mud pies.
4 Prepare for the Elements
In the spring it’s going to be cooler out, so dress your children in layers to keep them warm (and whine free) while you prepare your garden together. As the weather warms up, don’t forget to put them in hats, sunscreen and light clothing to ensure they don’t get a sunburn or dehydrated while you all work. Keep a pitcher of water on hand and make sure everyone drinks from it regularly. Bug spray may come in handy on evenings when you need to water and the mosquitoes are out.
3 Read Books about Gardening and Nature
By focusing some positive attention and interest in plants, nature and growth beyond the physical garden you can get your kids excited about what they produce, and prepare them for some of the tasks and routines you’ll be practicing together on a regular basis. Consider exploring the world of Peter Rabbit, Eric Carle’s The Tiny Seed, for older kids take a look at books like Gardening Lab for Kids: 52 Fun Experiments to Learn, Grow, Harvest, Make, Play, and Enjoy Your Garden.
2 Provide Plenty of Encouragement
Congratulate them and praise them for acquiring new skills, making discoveries about nature, and a job well done. You can document your garden’s progress by taking measurements, photos, drawing pictures and pointing out developments and growth within their garden. All of this positive reinforcement will have them noticing nature and provide them with a sense of accomplishment.
1 Don’t Forget to Enjoy Your Bounty
Let you little ones pick raspberries and strawberries that they grew themselves to go on top of their frozen yogurt sundaes. Look up new recipes together to sample pies, omelettes, salads and other food that can help everyone involved enjoy the results of all of your hard work.