There are few things children enjoy more than digging in the dirt and making mud pies. They are fascinated by looking for worms and bugs, and love to water the garden. Children also enjoy planting seeds, watching them grow and harvesting what they have grown. By cultivating their curiosity about these things, you can help them to develop a love of nature and gardening. They will also enjoy the special time they get to spend with you.
Encourage their enthusiasm by planting seeds that mature quickly and are large enough for a child to easily handle. Vegetables are a good choice for young children. They germinate quickly and can be eaten when mature. Some popular choices are radishes, zucchini, pumpkins, carrots, lettuce, peas, broccoli and potatoes. Children may even be encouraged to eat vegetables that they have grown and would otherwise avoid.
To add interest and color to the garden, you might want to add some flowers such as marigolds,nasturtiums and sweet peas. Be sure any flowers you plant are non-toxic. Children love to choose the seed packets or starter plants for their garden and should be allowed to do the planting themselves. They can then proudly say it is “their” garden. After the planting has been done, be sure to put the empty seed packet or plastic insert in the soil next to the plants to label them and mark their spot. The garden should be located where it is easily accessible to the child and can be admired by others. Allowing children to be included in the garden planning encourages a sense of ownership. When a place is chosen, remember to keep it small. Measuring out a “yardstick” garden keeps the size manageable for most children. If you don’t have much space, pot and container gardens are a fun choice.
Watering and weeding their garden may not hold as much interest for children as the planning and planting did. Garden tasks will be easier to remember if you make a garden calendar. That way the child can take charge of completing tasks and crossing off days.
Activities in the garden are not limited to springtime. Fall is a good time to have children assist in the planting of trees and spring-blooming bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses. Re-seeding small areas of the lawn can be a fun activity too. They will be more likely to stay off the newly seeded areas if allowed to contribute to the project.
Children should have their own tools to use in the garden. Child sized trowels, gloves, watering cansand rakes can be found in garden shops. Less expensive alternatives might include old kitchen spoons or measuring cups.
Sometimes waiting for weather to cooperate is too long for a child to wait. Indoor options are available. Herbs are a great example. They grow easily indoors, growth is quick and obvious, and they can be harvested multiple times and used in a family meal.
Gardens do not have to be planted in a square or rectangle. A “pizza” garden can be planted in a circle and divided into wedge-shaped sections. Assign each child their own section or plant different plants in each section. Or use a tripod support to train climbing plants such as sugar snap peas, beans or nasturtiums to grow a live teepee. Planting sunflowers in a circle or square, leaving space for entry, and tying the tops loosely together near the heads can make a sunflower house.
Whatever gardening experience you choose, remember to enjoy this time together!