I’ve gardened with kids, and it can be a scary endeavor. Images of crushed plants and premature picked fruit can make one think that it may not be worth including the kids. It doesn’t have to be a nightmare. I have gardened with 5 kids and am still around to talk about it.
Here are some pointers I have used, along with some brilliant advice from others. So, get excited to spend some fun times in the dirt with your kids.
Why gardening with kids is important
Gardening can make your kids smarter! Studies have shown that gardening encourages children to ask more question about science, math, and nature. It is a way to teach your kids these concepts and more, outside in the sunshine, where they don’t realize they are learning. You’ll have the opportunity to engage them in discussions about photosynthesis, water, worms, sunshine and how to measure the distance needed between plants. Experts say that children who garden score higher in science!
Along with science, math, and nature study, gardening with kids can offer the chance to share another valuable piece of knowledge — the importance of nutrition and eating a balanced diet. Together you can learn about the vitamins each plant provides and how to best eat a balanced diet. This is information they will be using throughout adulthood.
Gardening is the perfect activity for growing bodies. Children will be taking an active role in getting their hands in the dirt and water. The body is given the chance to build up and strengthen its immunity. The simple act of digging in the ground and moving things around helps build muscles and improve eye/hand coordination. If you have a child with lots of energy, hauling bags of soil and a watering can is a productive way to put that energy to good use.
One of my own pet peeves is the amount of time my kids spend in front of a screen — TV, computer, smartphone, video games, etc. Getting outside in nature and gardening is a great way to encourage kids to step away from electronics. Getting lost in a project is a wonderful feeling and gives us time, as parents, to engage in conversation we may not have ever had.
I’ve also found that gardening is beneficial for picky eaters. Planting produce, caring for and harvesting it piques a child’s interest. Incorporate some fruit and vegetables that aren’t your child’s favorite, or some that they have not tasted before. They may not eat it at first, but it’s a way to introduce the new or disliked food in another way. Over time they will learn to try new foods and different ways to eat it. It’s much more fun for them to eat food they grew and helped prepare. Are you needing advice on how to eat healthier? Read more about eating real food and how to make the transition.
Gardening is good for kids emotionally and mentally. Being outside promotes teambuilding and connection with the family. Communication skills are improved and new vocabulary is learned. Studies find that children who garden have reduced amounts of anxiety, stress and tend to be in a better mood. Having responsibility promotes a feeling of self-worth and responsibility. They develop an understanding of where our food comes and the need to care for our planet. After weeding, children learn fast how hard farmers work. Also, children learn the importance of consistency. This is learned fast after a few missed days of watering or weeding!
Gardening encourages talent exploration. You never know if you are good at something until you try it. There are numerous avenues that gardening allows kids to explore. Children can acquire an ability to cook healthy meals, realize they have a green thumb and/or realize that science is fascinating. The skill of developing a plan, like laying out a garden on paper and organizing planting schedules could lead to a future in landscaping or a desire to learn drafting skills. Have them draw or paint their garden and you could have a great artist someday. Even the simple act of researching and reading about plants, nutrition, and the environment can help them organize their thoughts and reading skills.
Containers for gardening
If you are new to gardening, have limited space or really little kids, consider container gardening. There is no need to go buy containers unless you really want to. Look around and recycle what is around you. Each kid should have their own garden space, whether it’s a pot or two or their own Square Foot Garden (details in this book).
Consider the following. These all make great containers for plants.
- Small hampers
- Cans- use an appropriate size for the plant. Repurpose those #10 cans from your freeze-dried food purchases.
- Buckets- 5 gallon or even mop buckets. Drill holes in the bottom for drainage.
- Watering cans
- Soda bottles- cut the top off a 2-liter bottle
- Jars- mason or mayo jars are perfect for herbs
- Plastic containers
- Wooden boxes and old crates
- Shoes- any outgrown shoe will work for small plants.
- Search for unusual items — an old toilet or sink — Have fun with it. The quirkier, the better.
Types of gardens kids will love
There are a variety of gardens to choose from depending on the developmental stage and interest of your children.
- Mexican garden– Consider onions, jalapeño peppers, cilantro, tomatoes, corn, garlic and anything else you love to eat in your favorite Mexican food recipes. We have always enjoyed homemade salsa and fresh tomatoes on tacos!
- Fairy herb garden– Herbs are the perfect size for fairies to live in. Create a fairyland with your kids! Fairy items can be found here! To learn more about herb gardens, read here to get started.
- Seed garden– Older kids might enjoy looking up the many types of seeds to plant. This could result in some thinking outside of the ordinary. Ponder sunflower, pumpkin, corn, nuts, potatoes, beans and peas. You’ll find a list of my favorite seed catalogs in this post.
- Rainbow garden– Write all of the colors of the rainbow down and find fruits and veggies that you can plant that represent each color. This is a very healthy garden!
- Giving garden– Plan a garden space for food that you are going to grow and give away. Find a shelter, church or family in your area that would appreciate free and fresh food.
- Musical garden – Plant gourds to make future musical instruments! Surround the garden with bells and homemade wind chimes.
- Teepee garden– Use long poles and some rope to create a teepee shape. (Leave an opening to the teepee) Plant climbing veggies, like green beans, at the base of the poles. Kids love to stand in the center of the teepee and get excited to see the plants wind up the poles.
- Mud garden– Make or find an old container like a big ice chest, sandbox or a kiddie pool. Fill it with sand and bagged soil. You are going to want “clean dirt”. Toss in sticks, old toys, beach toys, dollar store kitchen utensils, dinosaurs, Hot Wheel type cars, whatever else you can find. Kids that love to play in the dirt will be playing here, rather than the garden. Nothing will grow here except your child’s imagination.
- Italian garden– Picture homemade pasta sauce with tomatoes, onions, garlic, bell peppers, basil, oregano. Endless possibilities! Learn about the amazing health benefits of tomatoes!
- Plan a planting schedule– this is easier to do with older kids. Learn about what seeds to plant for early spring, summer, fall veggies. This gives them something to always look forward too!
- Indoor garden– if you are short space, you can still garden. Green onions, celery, lettuce, and herbs are good indoor plants. They grow fast and have visible results. One friend swears by her countertop herb garden that produces more basil, oregano, parsley, mint, and thyme than her family can eat.
- Secret garden– If your yard has a place that is a bit overgrown and shady, pull out some of the lower level plants to create a sitting area for your kids. Kids love secret places where they can just sit or read. Nothing really grows here, except your kids.
Garden Markers To Make
Even the most experienced gardeners among us can get confused about which green plant is going to produce what! Marking each plant is a great way for kids to begin learning to identify plants by their leaves and helps them organize their growing space.
- Stick stirrers, cheap at a home improvement store or wooden spoons (dollar store) — Kids can dip them in paint or take a paint brush to them. When dry, write down the plant name with a permanent marker.
- Find rocks in the shape of the produce. With markers or paint, make the rock look like the fruit or veggie.
- If you have some extra bricks laying around, have the kids write the plant name on it and set into the ground.
- Popsicle sticks, markers, and paint are just the right size for smaller plants and herbs.
- Duct tape wrapped around a chopstick or twig from the yard is fun to make. Think of making it like a flagpole. On the tape, use permanent markers to write the name of the plant.
- Like the previous suggestion, instead of duct tape, use clothespins on a stick. Write the name of the plant on both sides of the clothespin.
- Laminate and hang pictures on a fence that kids have drawn and labeled themselves is a good way to have a weatherproof, larger marker.
- With some rubber cement glue, you can add small items to your markers. Go through the bottom of the toy box, sewing and craft supplies. Think about buttons, jewels, fake flowers, ribbons, army men or anything else around the house you happen to find.
- If you have no desire to make homemade markers, this is a great option for you and your little ones.
More helpful hints for gardening with kids
Set them up for success. Choose plants that grow well and don’t need much babysitting. Use a planter or establish a smaller plot of ground that won’t overwhelm them. Make water easily accessible. We want them to have a sense of accomplishment and the desire to plant again and again.
Let kids own their garden. It is their space. They can even name it! Make plant marker with them, allow them to prepare the soil and be a part of every step of the process. Remind them of their responsibility and help them along the way. If you have a chore chart, add gardening chores to the list.
Buy gardening tools that are real. You can find children’s gardening tools that are perfect for their smaller hands. These would be a good starter set. Little ones might be okay with the plastic shovel or kit, but older kids know the difference. Teach the older ones how to care for the tools. This article includes tool-care tips for year-round.
Have them participate from farm to fork. Help them plant food that they will eat. Children should be preparing the soil, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting and making the food to eat. Throw around lots of compliments at every stage!
Consider starting the seeds indoors. It will give them a close up of the sprouting and get excited about planting outdoors. You can find some indoor starter kits here. Check out how to sprout food from seeds!
Get some great advice. Read and learn 27 tips from a master gardener!
Understand that you may need to do some sneaky garden maintenance when the kids aren’t around. They are going to miss pulling some weeds, there will be underwater. Also, parents will know if any pest control needs to be done.
For fun, read to your children about how to use the moon to plant a garden.
If the garden produces enough to sell, then help your children learn how to run a business with these tips.
The garden will not be perfect, but your scarecrow can be. If kids get discouraged, divert their attention to something that they can create. A visit to the botanical gardens would be educational. Or a nature walk where they can see plants that aren’t usually in a home garden.
Let children show off their garden to relatives and friends. They will enjoy repeating what they have learned, while they soak up the compliments. The kudos will be the encouragement they need to continue tending their garden and hopefully want to do it next year!