photo by Chiot’s Run on flickr.
Gardening, quite literally, gives children the perfect platform to grow. They get to experience responsibility, a sense of ownership, and the excitement of seeing a tiny seed transform. Spending time in the garden is an opportunity to soak up the sun and a great introduction to the “magic” of nature; something our little ones will learn to know and love. Grow vegetables, plant flowers, plant trees, there’s really no limits. Let their curiosities run wild. Gardening with children is a win-win, you’re spending quality time together and also producing healthy homegrown vegetables or beautiful flowers to enhance a landscape. Here are a few tips to help you and the kiddos get started.
Give Them Their Own Space
Whether it’s a spot in the garden or their own separate bed, it’s essential to give kids their own space to grow. They can help you in the “adult” garden all they want, but be sure to dedicate an area that they can have all to their self; it’s crucial to a child’s development. This gives children a sense of responsibility and also sparks their creativity. It gives them the freedom to experiment. A separate gardening space teaches children independence and gives them that feeling of being a “big kid”. Repurpose an old sandbox or place a stake in a section of the garden. Be sure to clearly label their area and emphasize ownership!
Choose Plants that Grow Fast
This is a big one. Children want to see results! Checking their little garden each day is what makes gardening fun for kids; watching seeds sprout, flowers bloom, and new plants take shape. It’s important to have things happening in the garden otherwise kids become disinterested. If they are just starting out, make sure to plant vegetables or flowers that will sprout up quick. Sunflowers are a must for young gardeners; try planting one, or two so the first can have a friend. Sunflowers sprout within a week and grow to 2 feet tall in a month’s time. Radishes are another plant for quick results. Although not typically tasty to the younger ones, radishes have a very short growing season; after 20-30 days they are ready for harvest. Another good crop for children are potatoes. They’re an easy and “fail-proof” option as they tend to grow under almost any conditions. Red potatoes will mature faster than white and are ready to pull from the ground when the plant collapses. Try cherry tomatoes to offer some variety in preparation. Place 2’ stakes beside each seedling and let your children watch them climb to the top. The growing season is about 50-75 days and lightly tying the vines to the stakes will keep them headed upwards. Lastly, and certainly nonetheless essential, is the coveted pumpkin. A staple for any child’s garden, the pumpkin seed will sprout in a week and are ready to pick and carve in 80-120 days.
Help Out Behind the Scenes
Gardening is a big responsibility for our children and its okay to give them some help when they aren’t around. This will keep them interested, keep their plants healthy, and keep them happy to see their plants doing well. Tending to a garden is not always glorious and the last thing you want is for gardening to feel like a chore. Add some extra water or prune flowers and weeds where needed to ensure the garden maintains its “magic” factor and your kids remain engaged. If your seedlings are having trouble, consider changing up the soil or adding more compost or fertilizer. If all else fails, visit your local nursery and buy plants that have already sprouted. Take your young gardeners so they can see all the different varieties of plants and pick their favorites.
Mix Education with Fun
Watching plants grow and getting their little hands dirty is not only a fun experience for children but it also provides opportunity for education. Teaching kids how to be sustainable and grow their own food is something they can utilize for a lifetime. Experiment with different types of vegetables and flowers to see what really sparks their interest. Use gardening as a stepping stone to other aspects of nature. Visit a local farmer’s market to see what others are growing, or even sell vegetables of your own. Take them on a hike and stop to see the wild flowers or plants. Do anything to get them excited about the outdoors. As for the slightly older kids, harvesting crops is a great time to educate them with aspects of cooking; a way for them to see out the entire process from seed to table. No matter which route you choose, get your children outside and start gardening today!