how kids can–and should–help with gardening
It’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.
- 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
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’.
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!