In today’s electronic age, it is easy to think that children will take no interest in an activity that does not involve cell phones or DVDs. However, gardening continues to remain one of the most practiced at-home hobbies in America and there are many good reasons why. By planting a children’s garden with your kids, you are teaching your children valuable survival skills, educating them on healthy easting habits, providing a connection to their science class, and encouraging them to get exercise outdoors in the fresh air. Yes, gardening with your children has countless benefits. If you would like to plant your own garden with your children this year, use the following tips to get started.
(1) Start small.
A children’s garden definitely does not have to mean that you uproot your entire back yard and add in a raised bed. It can be something as simple as a window box filled with herbs, or a few ceramic pots on your patio with heirloom tomatoes or edible nasturtium flowers. Whether you have an shaded backyard or a sunny apartment balcony, there is a way that you can have a garden. Even just a potted mint plant can be a garden. Don’t be afraid to start small.
(2) Choose easy to grow seeds.
How do you know which seeds are easy to grow? Generally speaking, the larger the seed, the easy it is to grow. So for edibles, pick veggies such as peas, beans, and corn. Squash, greens, beets, radishes, peppers, broccoli, and tomatoes are all good choices as well. For all fruits, flowers, and vegetables, consult your seed packets for information. If you see phrases such as “spreads easily” or “prolific reseeder,” this means they will be easy to grow.
(3) Look for plant extremes.
To interest your children in gardening, select plants that either grow very tall and sprawl, or stay teeny-tiny. They are sure to be enthralled with the extremes. Sunflowers are an excellent choice for children’s gardens, since they grow to be quite tall, and produce large, heavy blooms. Another bonus is that you can roast and eat the sunflower seeds.
(4) Be creative with containers and props.
Don’t worry about making the garden look perfect. Try making it look playful and interesting instead. Encourage your children to sow plants in unusual found objects, such as an old pair of rubber boots or a coffee can with holes poked in the bottom. Climbing plants such as green beans can climb up a zany cage made out of sticks, or a teepee made of bamboo. Attract critters such as toads with overturned clay pots, and butterflies shallow dishes of water.
(5) Don’t be afraid of a little dirt.
Your kids probably know that they are not supposed to get too dirty outside, or track mud into the house. But when it comes to the garden, try not to set too many limits. Allow them to get their hands dirty- it will feel like a special privilege. Purchase each child his or her own set of garden tools, and allow them to work away.
(6) By all means, eat your wares.
This can be one of the most rewarding things about working in a garden with your children. When you harvest your fruits and vegetables, make sure to savor them. Even if your children do not usually like carrots, they may find that home grown carrots not only taste different, but that it is rewarding to eat them after tending to them for weeks. You can also find purple or yellow carrots, which put a surprising and unusual twist on what your kids expect to find on their plates. Look for creative ways to serve the veggies from your garden, such as slicing them thinly and baking them in order to create homemade vegetable chips.
(7) Don’t miss an educational opportunity.
To us, it may seem like common sense that chicken meat comes from a chicken, and a cucumber comes from a cucumber seed. But most children have only seen the end product on a grocery store shelf, and do not know where these foods come from. Therefore, planting a children’s garden gives you a very valuable educational tool. Don’t miss the opportunity to explain that a whole growing, living plant sprouts up from a tiny, dormant seed. To kids, it almost seems like magic!
(8) Foster responsibility.
Allow your children to take over the primary responsibilities in the garden. Create a plan for watering, pest monitoring, and weeding- this is basically getting your children to do chores in disguise. Allow your kids to pick ripe fruits and veggies, and cut blooming blossoms. Your children will begin to take ownership of the garden, and take pride in their new responsibilities. Make sure to maintain an organic garden so that one of their responsibilities is not being exposed to chemicals!