A few months ago I decided that the kids and I would plant a garden this year. I used to have a small garden in the backyard before there were any children in my life (oh, glorious free time!), but busy spring months at work and having two summer babies put my gardening on hold for the last couple years. This year I decided to give it another go. I knew that it would be a really fun project for the kids to “help” me with and a great way to teach them about nature, food production and responsibility.
Gardening can be a lot of work and a bit of a time commitment, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re new to gardening, start small with just a couple plants. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that grow well with just a little nurturing. You also don’t need a huge amount of space. While a large plot is ideal, lots of plants can be grown in containers on your back porch or windowsill. It’s not too late to start a garden now. There are a variety of plants can be planted in May to produce this summer and fall.
If you’re considering starting a garden with kids this year, we’ve got some great tips below on how to make the experience fun for kids and how to get them involved in the process.
Involve them in the planning & prep
Planning and prepping for your garden can take quite a bit of time and effort, so involve your kids from the beginning. Read a few books with them on gardening to familiarize them with the process. Let them scope out the backyard with you to choose the perfect spot for the garden (somewhere that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day and good drainage). Let them help you measure your plot and build any necessary containers, raised beds, trellises or fencing. Go to the store together to pick out seeds or starter plants. Talk to them about options for your garden and let them choose at least one plant that’s theirs. Discuss how many plants you can fit in your garden space, where they’ll go and make a map of the garden so they can visualize it. When you’re ready to prep, let them help measure the distance between plants (applied math!) and plot out where the plants will go.
Let them get dirty
Half the fun of planting a garden is getting your hands in the dirt – let your kids help! This is definitely the most fun part of gardening for kids. Once you’ve picked your spots for your plants, let them help with prepping the soil and digging the holes. Show them once how to do it and then supervise the planting of the seeds and/or plants. Teach them to be gentle with the plants and roots. Show them how to pack the soil around the plant to support it. Let them use real tools and be part of the process. Obviously older kids will be more helpful with this part than little kids, but either way, it’s a great way to get them directly invested and involved.
Grow foods they’ll eat
I know I’m not alone when I say that my kids have a hard time eating vegetables. It doesn’t matter how we prepare them or how much we tout their nutritional value, my kids just aren’t eating them. I’m really hoping all that changes by growing our own fruits and vegetables in our garden this year. It’s no surprise that by allowing kids to take responsibility for the veggies in the garden, kids will feel incredibly proud of their bounty and more likely to partake it consuming it! Let your kids choose at least one variety of plant as their own. Whether it’s their favorite fruit/vegetable, or just one that has a funny name (arugula!).
If your kids not familiar with the plants/fruits/vegetables, take them to your local farmer’s market to show them the options and purchase a few for them to try at home. Chances are, even if they weren’t huge fans of the vegetable before the garden, they will be once they taste fresh picks straight from their backyard. Plus, when kids pick/forage for the vegetables in your garden when ripe, it turns them into a reward.
Some of our favorite plants (which are also relatively easy to grow): strawberries, snap peas, zucchini, beets, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, carrots and kale.
Make it a learning opportunity
Nearly everything about gardening is a learning opportunity for kids. From when to plant (and why) to where to plant (and why), planting a garden is all about teaching children about nature, growth and food production. When it’s time to get your garden going, start some seeds indoors in small containers that are easily accessible to kids. This allows the kids learn about how plants grow from seeds with soil, water, and light. They can learn how to use a grow light to replace the sun that plants would get outside or why it’s important to place plants near a window.
Gardening is also a great way to teach children about the symbiotic relationship between birds, bees, bugs, worms and plants. Once your plants are outside, explain how certain animals/bugs will help your garden and how others could hurt it. Teach them to be gentle with the plants and how to handle and harvest the produce carefully. Allow your kids to be a part of the process and learn from the plants that thrive and those that fail.
Planting and tending to a garden gives you a lot of opportunities to give your kids responsibilities. By including your kids in the process of planning and planting your garden, they’ll feel like it’s their garden too and take ownership of it. A great way to get your kids involved in the family garden is by giving them daily and/or weekly responsibilities for the garden. My kids are 2 and 4 and they love watering the plants and checking to see if they’re growing. Every day, they check on their plants and water them with spray bottles (which keep the plants from being majorly over-watered). They are very proud of their plants and want their garden to grow.
Make it fun for them
If you’re the creative type, have your kids make their own plant markers from stones or popsicle sticks. Let them measure the plants weekly with a tape measure (my kids LOVE tape measures) and keep a chart of how tall they’re getting. Allow them to decorate the garden with fairies, gnomes, princesses, Transformers, Minions or whatever else they’re into right now. Give them their own gardening gloves and tools. Allow them to help with the sprinkler and watering.
Reinforce the notion of encouraging plant growth by working with nature and allow your kids to interact with the bugs and worms that surround your plants. Let kids dig up worms from other areas of your yard and transplant them into your garden. Treat an aphid problem naturally with ladybugs. Come up with new recipes that incorporate the food from your garden and let the kids help with cooking.
Our garden is still a work in process. The excessive rains and flooding in our area have done a bit of damage to a few of our plants, but the rest are hanging in there. I’ll keep you updated on the progress throughout the summer. I’m taking bets on whether or not my children actually eat a single thing we grow (other than the strawberries), so let me know if you want in on that action!
If you’d like more information on gardening with kids, we’ve got an entire Pinterest board filled with all kinds of great tips, advice, articles, printables, books, games, activities and recommendations. Check it out HERE.