Summer's coming, and with it comes weekend weeding. Wondering how you’ll spend Saturday morning cleaning up the yard while somehow entertaining the kids, too? How about gardening together?
According to the National Gardening Association, letting kids get their hands dirty in a garden teaches many academic and life lessons, including where food comes from, healthy nutrition, environmental awareness, and responsibility. “You have to water, weed, harvest, sometimes pinch and prune, so you learn about plant growth but also how to take responsibility for something,” says Horticulture Educator Carrie Murphy.
Gardening is also a great way to improve kids’ self esteem, says Katie E. Daly, Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development. “Knowing that they are capable of success is a great result of working in the garden.” Wondering where to start? Here's a guide to getting your young gardener going.
Expert gardeners recommend starting small. Preschoolers won’t do a whole lot of formal gardening, but will enjoy mulching, pulling a few weeds, finding different kinds of plants around the yard, and looking for animal neighbors, like frogs, butterflies, and birds.
“Why's” will be prevalent in your discussions, but don’t worry if you don’t know the answer to why tree buds look red but the leaves come out green. Turn it into an opportunity to go on the Internet or to the library with your child so you can uncover the answer together.
Kindergarteners are much more developmentally able to do some actual work in a garden, especially if the garden doubles as a playhouse or secret hide-away. Let go of the need to control things, and let your child determine what the garden will hold.
Elementary Age Planters
If your child is in elementary school, the world of the garden is just opening up with a myriad of possibilities. Kidsgardening.com suggests older kids be allowed to make plant markers, read seed packets, choose from catalogs, and pay for nursery plants.
Talk with your child about measurements between seeds when planting and about how much water the garden needs. Their capacity to understand abstract knowledge in the context of a garden is growing right along with the produce.
Older children can work on bigger projects in your yard, such as building arbors, fences, and birdhouses. Spending time together in the garden also offers a quiet and safe place to talk about their lives. Tweens might open up more about school, friends, and dreams while picking tomatoes for dinner than when being grilled before bed.
What if you’ve never gardened before, or you don’t have a lot of space to plant a garden?
“Look at it as a learning experience for both of you to experience together,” suggests Daly. “Maybe the parent can learn about how to transfer a plant into the ground and the child could learn about spacing plants and proper placement.”
It’s more about the time together and the chance to learn something new than it is about the actual results. But good results reward the time and effort kids put into their gardens. “A diverse garden will teach kids the most,” says Murphy. So mix it up: grow a few herbs, some vegetables, a few annuals, and a perennial. “Parents and their children can also focus on creating a garden that attracts butterflies and insects for further observation.”
For young children or people without a yard, container gardening is an inexpensive and non-threatening option, and it provides the lessons of growing a garden without as much labor.
Here are more gardening tips from the experts:
1. When choosing the plants, think what will most impress your child: vegetables he likes to eat, sunflowers that will tower over him, and bright flowers at his eye-level.
2. Get your child kid-sized tools, especially a watering can.
3. Help your child keep a garden journal, where she can draw pictures of the plants, keep track of the weather, and other garden related notes.
4. Put the garden where you can see it, at kid’s level. For instance, plant it right outside of the family room window, where it will beckon your child to come out for a visit.
5. Let your child paint a wooden sign with his name on it for the garden.
6. Permit your child to determine the neatness or messiness of the garden. Refrain from taking it over and doing all the work yourself.
So, no matter the size of your garden or what you plant, get your hands dirty with the kids. The fun will keep growing all summer long.