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how kids can–and should–help with gardening

May 23, 2011 // 24 comments // Categories: plants, science // Tags: , , , , , , .

gardening w kids coverIt’s been a different kind of weekend over here; our littlest one has been under the weather for the greater part of the last four days, and the wedding shower I was supposed to attend on Saturday in Pennsylvania never happened because I had to stay here with Cora while my husband coached Maddy and Owen’s soccer games.

As worried as I’ve been about Cora, and as totally bummed as I was that I missed a fun weekend with my sisters, parents, and extended family, I played in the dirt a little and ended up feeling a bit better.

Maddy, Owen, and I worked our tails off on our gardens.  We weeded, we raked, we pulled, we shoveled, we planted, and we watered.

And as hard as it was for an over-tired me to be patient with my over-excited little gardeners, I tried with all my might to be. Because kids can–and should–help with gardening. But don’t get me wrong; unless you’re prepared for a dirt-covered family, it’s not always easy.

And some kids are totally not interested in gardening.  Owen declared early this spring, Mommy, I don’t really like nature.

Nice.  Just like his ‘body doesn’t like singing or dancing in front of people‘, my boy doesn’t dig nature.

So how will I get my boy back in the nature game? Or if not the nature game, how will I get him at least a little interested in our backyard garden?

Here’s how.  And here are a few ways that kids can–and should–help with gardening.

Maddy happily plants our hanging baskets with the impatiens she choose. Yeah!

 

  • Let them pick the plants. Seriously! At this point in the game, our houses aren’t going to perfect, so why should our gardens? If you know you have a sunny spot in the yard, let your kiddos choose one of several sun-happy plants from the garden center. They’ll be more invested if a plant is their own.

Maddy and I did the flower-choosing this year, and she made some really awesome choices.

We talked about the colors that we had (we bought two hanging geraniums at the grocery store earlier that day), and I let her decide which colors of other flowers would look best alongside of them. She also chose the whole color scheme for our backyard flowers. She was in heaven, choosing a mix of hot pinks, light pinks, oranges, and stripes. Flower fabulous!

 

  • Buy them gardening gloves. And tiny shovels. Just like we buy ballet shoes for dance class and cleats for soccer, gardening gloves and kid-shovels make our kids feel a part of the gardening team.  Every sportsman needs equipment, and if they’re going to play on Team Garden, they need to sport the correct gear.

Kid-gardening gloves are super-inexpensive and can be found at the grocery store or any gardening store.  I bought a few pairs on clearance at the end of the season last year, and my kids jumped up and down when I brought them home.  (Maybe that’s because they were Sponge Bob and Maddy, Owen, and Cora claim to looooove the show even though they’ve never seen a single episode–at least under my watch.)

 

Our veggie garden before it became a garden!

  • Let them get dirty. It’s hard. This is the most difficult part for me sometimes, but it’s the most fun for kids.

Have them put on play clothes, their Crocs, gloves, and a happy gardening face, and let them get dirty. Without freaking out about it.

Show them how to prepare the garden bed, how to pull weeds, and how to break up clumps of dirt.

 

Our finished veggie garden

Show them how to correctly space plants, how to gently pull plants out of their plastic containers, loosen the roots, and place them in the ground.  Let them stand in the dirt, play with earthworms, and find potato bugs.

Let them water the plants, clean up their workspace, and be proud.  Let them have fun and laugh at the dirt that gets stuck in Mom’s hair (or count the bug bites on her arm).

hello, little lettuce plant

 

  • Eat your harvest. The best part ever–eating the harvest and celebrating hard work.

Early this spring I picked up a lettuce plant, and though we didn’t plant this baby, we’ve been taking care of it, so when we serve a ‘happy lettuce salad’ for dinner, the kids are happy to try it.  Cora’s my salad-eater, but Maddy and Owen will also throw it back as long as croutons, dressing, and sesame seeds are toppers. It’s fun for them because they water the lettuce, cut pieces, and the next day it’s on their plate.

But choosing veggies to grow and then making a big deal about it when it’s time to pick, clean, and eat them, is so fun for kids.

We are huge tomato fans over here, so our garden this summer has six different kinds of tomatoes.  The kids have loved running out to the garden for the past few years, picking the ripe tomatoes, grabbing a few sweet basil leaves from the herbs we grow, and helping me make a tomato-mozzarella salad.

our garden plan and harvest record

  • Let them count, observe, record, and assess progress. Keeping track of which plants do well in certain conditions, keeping track of harvest, and assessing the taste of the veggies in your garden is a super way of taking gardening a step further for kids.  This can be done in simple charts, on notepaper, or in a spiral ‘gardening notebook’.

This year, we’re going to keep track of our garden with a Garden Plan and Harvest Record.  The Garden Plan and Harvest Record is here to download as a pdf.

We’re using a Garden Plan and Harvest Record this year for two reasons: 1. We had no record of which tomatoes we loved and which we didn’t from last year’s garden; and 2. I’m hoping that this will be something that Owen likes–the record-keeping, counting, and assessing. I’m hoping this may renew his relationship with nature.

One part of this chart is a record of the plants we’re using this year, the Garden Plan, which we completed today. It simply numbers each plant and notes its type and variety.

The other part is a Harvest Record that we’ll fill out each week of the summer. The Harvest Record will record the week’s weather very simply by circling the weather icon that we experienced: big sun (for hot and sunny); smaller sun (warm and sunny); tiny sun; cloud; rain cloud; and lightening for stormy weather.  My kids are huge weather fans, so I’m hoping they dig this part.

our garden plan

The Harvest Record will also keep track of how many items each plant yields, and Maddy, Owen, and Cora can jot some notes in the box during the week and then circle the final number: 0-4 / 5-10 / 10-20 / 20+

The last thing the Harvest Record will do is keep track of taste: this week, do we like the veggie or not? We’ll note it simply by circling the smiley face or the frown face.

We’ve never done this before, so I’m hoping the kids are into it.  Sticking it to a clipboard that we will keep hanging in the kitchen will, I hope, remind us to use it. I’m also hoping that at the end of the season, we can look back at our weekly Harvest Records and determine which plants we want to use again; it can be a cool synthesis activity to look back at the weather, our harvest, and the plant information to figure out what made some work and not others.

 

And that’s it–just a few ways that kids can help with the gardening no matter their age. Whether it’s helping pick out plants, reminding us to water them, helping pick cherry tomatoes off the vine, or counting and eating, kids–families–can benefit in so many ways by gardening together.

I clearly mention some ways that kiddos can help with gardening, but why should they get in on the gardening fun? They should for a hundred reasons, some important ones being that they will learn patience (growing takes a long time!), appreciation (once it’s finally ripe, hooray!), and generosity (sharing the harvest is half the fun!).

They’ll also learn that food doesn’t grow on grocery store shelves; it takes work, big-time.  The whole thing’s one big happy science lesson, and when you add in counting, writing, and responsibility, it’s nothing but a win-win in my book.

Any other kid-happy gardening advice? Please feel free to link to your relevant post or leave comments with your ideas!  Linky will be open for the next few weeks.  Happy gardening!

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  1. We cordoned off a corner of our garden with some extra bricks a friend had laying around, and that’s my son’s special area. He has some flowers and all of his own gardening tools, and he loves it.

    Reply
    • Amy–
      Awesome. I never thought to give a whole section to kids–I may do that next year! Smart!!

      Reply
  2. My kids LOVE helping with the garden! This year I gave them each a little window box planter that was “theirs”. They got to choose what to plant in it. My daughters picked peas, and my son chose carrots. Then my youngest picked my oldest daughter’s pea plant and my oldest burst into tears… At least she had three more pea plants!

    Reply
    • Ahhhh! Gotta love it! Thanks for sharing, Maryanne! You are not the only one who’s mentioned giving kids a spot of their own to garden and care for–I think I’ll divide our side garden into three parts and let Maddy, Owen, and Cora choose the seeds for their own part. THANK you for sharing–love the idea (and glad your oldest had 3 more pea pods!)

      Reply
  3. first off, my kids are exactly the same way about sponge bob. they had never seen a single show and yet professed their love for him! how do these things happen?! i blame school… ;) as for gardening, my kids love to help. i loved yr post bc now i have more ideas on how to let them help, other than letting them water and take away my garbage. (great mom i am, huh? i need to get some more plants so this time, i’ll be sure to let them help pick!

    Reply
    • Mae! YES! So happy that I’m not alone w/ the Sponge Bob thing–so funny. And thank you for writing–I hope it does help just a teeny bit. Let me know how it goes, my friend!

      Reply
  4. You are the best, Amy! Some years it’s a family effort in the garden, some years, it’s just me and some years…it’s no one and I find “surprises” on my porch from my mother-in-law!

    I was at a wedding shower last weekend in PA, haha! I’ll look for you at the wedding ; )

    Reply
    Maria
    26/05/2011
    • Maria! No way–maybe I’ll see you in July. . . what a riot if we end up at the same wedding! I totally know what you mean about changes each year–it’s the cycle of family interests, I suppose! Thanks so much for reading, Maria!

      Reply
  5. Love, LOVE this post! :) So many ways to encourage kids to get outdoors & have fun growing stuff! Brilliant! :)

    Reply
    • Catherine! THANK YOU! You so rock for taking the time to make my day.

      Reply
  6. This is a great post with some really useful ideas.

    I would also add that I don’t do any activity in the garden with the kids that lasts more than about 10 minutes and I make sure it’s all prepared in advance because they have such short attention spans. However, if they have their own spot, they often find their own activities which will last a whole lot longer.

    My kids have their own gardens – as well as a garden den – which are probably their favourite places in the whole back yard. I’ve attached a link to that.

    I will also attach a link to my pre-school gardening club activity list if that’s OK as this gives a few ideas of gardening activities to do with younger children.

    Reply
    • Dawn!! Of course! Link back please to the gardening club! Thank you, thank you for your ideas and response. Totally appreciate it, and I love the 10 min time frame. You totally get the kid-gardener psyche. Thanks for reminding us all!!

      Reply
  7. Amy, this is such a great post. So many wonderful ideas for getting out and getting your hands dirty. I myself am an appalling yet hopeful gardener :) My son (26months) discovered mulching worms for the first time last weekend with Granddad. He LOVED it! Think I might have to brush up on my gardening skills :)

    Would love it if you popped over to An Amazing Child and shared this with our Outdoor Play Friday Link-up :)

    Reply
    • Kate–
      Many thanks, my friend. For the record, I am a lousy gardener. . . but I totally pretend I’m awesome–same goes for a lot of what I do in life, right? :)
      Mulching worms is probably tops for a 2 yr old. . . I will certainly head over for the linky. Thanks, friend!

      Reply
  8. I love the Harvest recording sheets! And don’t worry about Owen. I grew up in a family that had a huge garden and I HATED it. I always swore I would NEVER have a garden. But lately, it’s kind of grown on me. My husband is a really good gardener so I like to help out. I still don’t love it but I pretend for the kids sake :)

    Reply
    • Jackie! Thank you! So interesting that you were the ‘Owen’ of your family. . . maybe he’ll come around and be a nature ‘liker’ after all. Or at least maybe he’ll pretend for his kids? Or help with his future wife’s garden?

      Reply
  9. Oh my gosh, Amy, you are so organised! Wow!

    I can totally relate your little guys ‘Mommy I don’t really like nature’. I never did either as a kid. Actually, I didn’t until I became a parent really! I was a girly-girl who never liked to get dirty, I was always bug-o-phobic, and especially afraid of spiders – to the point where I couldn’t walk on grass at all unless I had boots on, in case one jumped up on me! (you know how spiders can jump ;-p ) Thankfully, now I love to be outside with my family, and hopefully they will grow up enjoying the outdoors. Maybe your little guy will grow out of this phase too.

    Thanks for linking up to Outdoor Play! Hope to see you again next week!

    Reply
  10. Amy, oh my! I am screwing up your whole garden link up. I just tried to link up a second post called “seed sort” to your garden link up. When I did, I accidently linked up my Garden Books post again and when I tried to fix that I linked it up… again!!! If you can somehow delete entries 16 & 17, that would be great. So sorry about that!

    Reply
    • Jackie! I totally dont’ care. I’m just happy you’ve linked back, my friend–at this point in my life, it takes a whole lot more than a double-linkup to make me upset or angry–xoxo

      Reply
  11. My kids do help in the garden! They believe they own the plants, which actually excites me because they have take such ownership in the process.

    Reply
    • Awesome!! I know–it’s not always easy to have little ones in the garden–but they do take ownership of ‘their’ bounty in the end!

      Reply

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