Children love being outside, playing in the dirt, watching things grow, and learning about the world around them, so it’s only natural that they also love gardening. Just spending a couple of minutes gardening with your child will forge a connection to nature that they’ll always remember.
Children are natural gardeners because they love dirt; touching it, digging in it, smelling it, and may even try to taste it when we’re not watching. From a very young age children can be involved in gardening. Babies may not be ready to play in the dirt, but their senses will involve them as they watch you work, smell the rich earth, and listen to the sounds around them. Toddlers can help dig holes and cover seeds, water, and even pull weeds under your watchful eye. Preschoolers and older children can plant and care for their own gardens with increasing responsibility and decreasing tutelage as they get older.
You don’t need a green thumb to garden with children, but if you’re not sure where to begin, try these activities first:
Keep it Simple
Children like to see results quickly, so start with seeds that sprout quickly and require minimal care. Grass is one of the easiest seeds to grow, and chances are there’s at least one bare or thin area in your lawn that could use some care.
Keep the seeds moist – this is a great job for your child. Children love watering plants and will feel important when they are given such an important job. In a week to ten days the grass with germinate and begin to sprout. Try to let your child discover this amazing surprise independently. A good way to subtly point out the new growth and simultaneously remind your child to water the grass is by asking “Have you checked on your seeds today?”
For a fun springtime activity, make Egg Head Pals. Next time you make eggs crack them carefully to keep most of the shell intact. After washing the eggshells, help your child carefully draw a face on the eggshell using a permanent marker – the open end is at the top. Cut a paper towel tube into 1″ sections to hold your Egg Head Pal. Fill the shells with potting soil and sprinkle grass seed on. Water, place in a window, and watch your Egg Head Pal grow green grass hair!
An even easier way to garden with children is to buy seedlings and transplant them into your garden or a larger pot. Children won’t be able to experience planting a seed, caring for it and watching it sprout, but you can carefully knock the dirt off the roots so they can learn about how the roots help the plant grow. They’ll also learn how to use gardening tools, have a chance to work in the dirt, and most importantly – spend time with you.
Many vegetables are easy to grow, even in planters if you don’t have space for a garden. Green beans are among the easiest vegetables to grow, and can be eaten both raw and cooked. Try purple beans – they grow purple but turn green when they’re cooked! Lettuce is another vegetable that’s easy to grow. You can harvest outer leaves while leaving the inner leaves to continue growing, and lettuce just needs a quick rinse before eating. Zucchini grows like a weed! It’s the most fool-proof of all vegetables, and can be eaten raw, cooked, or grated and made into zucchini bread or muffins.
One of the benefits of growing vegetables is that children are more likely to try – and like – vegetables that they’ve grown themselves. You’ll be amazed how quickly a handful of fresh-picked green beans disappear into little gardeners’ mouths!
Including children in gardening fosters their creativity, independence, responsibility and provides a sense of accomplishment for them. So what are you waiting for? Grab a trowel and start digging!