Gardening with children is a great way to spend some quality time with your young ones. Plus, they get to spend time outdoors and learn about nature. I think that’s something that’s awfully lacking with today’s kids.
That said, it is not easy to get them away from their video games, phones and computers. And, if you have this problem, I’m here to help.
My mom had the same problem with me when I was a child. Thankfully, I’ve been able to get my kids to spend time gardening. They still do it on a part-time basis (3 times a week). Nevertheless, I’ve seen their interest develop of the short time we’ve been doing it.
Plus, it’s a lot of fun!
What to Plant – Best Crops for Children
When gardening with kids, you want to choose the right plants. That’s because kids will be more interested in what they’re doing when they’re interested in it.
With flowers, it is all about the senses. Kids rely on their senses a lot. And, there’s an order of priority as well.
At the top of the list is visual appeal or their sense of sight. Then comes fragrance followed by touch. Taste works for some kids and not for other kids, at least that what I’ve noticed. However, I noticed that it is easier to get them interested in food that they like to eat.
This makes certain vegetables, fruits and herbs stand out.
Here’s what to look for with each sensation.
- Sight – bright, beautiful colored flowers are on top of this list. Also, odd looking ones that are visually appealing. Avoid ugly, strange, scary looking ones. Some great options here include nasturtiums, sunflowers, zinnia, daffodils, pansies, marigold, hens and chicks, tulips.
- Smell – things that smell good. I’ve found that girls appeal to this more than boys. Nevertheless, kids enjoy something that has a nice smell. Certain flowers get bonus points for their unique smells especially if it reminds kids of food they enjoy. Here, they enjoy Lavender, sweet pea, basil, four o’clocks, peppermint, jasmine.
- Touch – texture is the most common here. Plants are great because they come in all sorts of textures with some being soft, others being rough or smooth. Kids especially like flowers that move although there are only a few of them. Some examples include alliums, aloe, lamb’s ear, snapdragons, purple coneflower.
- Taste – the more they are able to relate to the flavors, the more appealing these plants are. As such, it is a good idea to let the kids try a lot of different foods. Doing so will help them associate certain flavors with the respective plants. I found that they enjoy cherry tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, corn, strawberries, pumpkins, watermelons.
- Sound – grass, corn and bamboo are some of the plants that make distinct sounds. Often there needs to be some kind of wind or tapping involved to make that sound.
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Children Learn Different Skills from Gardening
This was a pleasant side effect of teaching my kids about gardening.
To be honest, I was not too optimistic that my kids would like gardening. After all, my mom tried to get me to garden when I was a kid because she enjoyed it. That never took off just like the piano lessons never really worked out.
But, for some reason I got lucky in that the kids do enjoy gardening. Maybe it is because they can see the harvest that they planted. Or, maybe because I let them do things on their own.
I’m not really sure.
In any case, the goal was to make them enjoy more time outside away from their digital devices and video games.
But, I have noticed that there have been quite a few positive side effects from them gardening three times a week. And, I highly encourage you to show them how to garden and let them learn these lessons on their own like my kids did.
Here are some of the skills I’ve notice them develop through gardening.
- Responsibility and Accountability
- Love for Nature
- Being Active
- Staying Outdoors
- Working Together
How to Get Children Interested in Gardening
Let’s face it, kids, especially young kids have short attention spans. And, they quickly lose interest or have no interest at all in things that don’t pique their curiosity. So, it is important to understand where they are coming from and treat them as kids.
Here are a few things I’ve learned with my kids and some things I remembered when my mom tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to get me hooked to gardening as a child.
- Keep things simple
- Let them do their own thing
- They want to be part of the process
- Don’t rush them into trying to learn, focus on fun
- Don’t get too serious
- Let them try things even if you know their idea will fail
- Always switch things up
- Focus on the things they like and let them learn about those things first
Child Safety in the Garden
As a parent, this is by far the most important thing for me when teaching my kids about gardening. I’ll admit that it adds to the work.
That’s because you always need to check everything before you begin. Even things like rusty tools can become dangerous if these things have sharp edges. So, it takes a bit of extra effort on your part as a parent to organize, clean and think things through every time they garden.
Here are some of the things I make sure to check and have when gardening with my kids.
- Keep things clean – This is a no brainer. You don’t want bacteria, ants or other things bothering the kids. It also makes it a hassle for you later on.
- Be careful with sharp objects and anything mechanical – this is also something that I take special care with when the kids are around. Their curiosity can make them play with tools with sharp ends or blades. So, keeping these tools stored away is essential. If they need to use some, make sure that you teach them how to properly handle them first then supervise them along the way as well.
- Clear out anything with chemicals – even something as simple as fertilizer is something I put aside into an area. And, one of our rules is that they need adult supervision when taking things from that area. This way they can learn to use tools and things like fertilizer but always under adult supervision.
- Use smaller, lightweight tools – depending on how big your kids are, you want to give them tools that are their size. This way, they aren’t straining themselves carrying the tools or using bad/dangerous technique when using it.
- Teach them how to store anything they use – after they use something they also need to learn how to put it back in their place properly. If the item needs to be cleaned before returning, they should learn how to do that as well.
- Always wear sunscreen and hat – this is very important for me. On hot days, I also give them arm and leg sleeves or make sure they wear long sleeved clothing.
- Use protective gear when needed and explain why – in addition sunscreen and a hat, I also teach them the value of wearing gloves, boots, dust masks and safety glasses when necessary.
- Never get lazy or sloppy – when we’re working by ourselves in the garden, it is easy to get lazy or sloppy when doing some things. This is especially true when we’re in a hurry or you feel like cleaning up tomorrow. With kids, I always remind myself that the kids can get hurt when you get sloppy. Also, they learn by following your mannerisms. So, they’ll learn bad practices and become sloppy as well.
Activities for a child in the garden
Here are some of the activities I’ve found my kids tend to enjoy. You can begin with this list and experiment with others as you go along. I’ve also found that once they’ve become interested in gardening, it is easier to introduce some of the more mundane things and they won’t easily get bored with it.
- Watering the plants
- Deadheading flowers
- Collective seeds
- Making food from the herb and vegetable garden
- Harvesting fruits and vegetables
Of course, there’s also this one, which is a bit tougher that the others.
- Putting things away – cleaning after themselves is something my kids don’t like doing. Much like cleaning their rooms, I often hear an “aww,” when I tell them to do it. But, I always make sure to explain why it is important even if I know most of it will quickly exit the other ear.
Tips for Gardening with Children
To summarize, here are some tips to keep in mind when gardening with children.
Make Things Fun
When it comes to keeping the kids interested in gardening (or anything else for that matter), it needs to be fun. Anything overly serious, complicated or boring won’t cut it.
Sure, you might be able to get them to do it once or twice. But, they’ll stop or lose interest fairly quickly.
And, as we all know you never get better at anything unless you do it regularly or at least on a somewhat consistent basis.
So the only way to keep the kids glued to gardening is to keep things fun.
In my experience, the activities you do need to pique their interest or curiosity. If you can align it to something they enjoy doing.
My youngest likes art because he enjoys colors. So, I make sure to add activities that involve colorful things. This includes planting bright colored flowers, painting the pots and making DIY projects that involve artistic things with color.
The more fun it is for them, the more likely they’ll look forward to it.
Consider the Kids’ Ages
My kids are 2 years apart each but because we have a few of them, the age difference between the oldest and youngest is a bit far.
Add to that the fact that kids’ interest change quite quickly when then hit certain ages, it can get challenging to keep them all interested in the same thing.
So, always be mindful of what ages your kids are and how far of a gap they have. For young kids who are 4 years apart or more, you’ll need to make sure that they do different activities. Otherwise, one or the other will get disinterested.
This takes more work on your part. But I find that it helps keeping their friends interesting in gardening as well. That’s because within their group, there’s always going to be at least one talkative one.
He or she will likely sound off on what they like and don’t like. And, you can take this feedback in deciding what activities they should do.
Give Them a Sense of Ownership
Like you and I, kids feel a sense of accomplishment when they’re able to do something. This is especially true if they’re able to do it on their own. And, if it something they thought they couldn’t not achieve or perceived as being difficult.
By letting do their own projects (with a little guidance here and there) or giving them their own small plots or beds to grow plants on, they not only learn responsibility but become proud of their own accomplishments.
Have Their Friends Take Part
As a kid, I had no interest in sports. But, by the time I reached 6th grade, I started appreciating different sports. So what changed?
My friends were sports junkies. Every break we had be it before, in between and after class, they’d find some kind of sport to play be it baseball, basketball, soccer, football or even tag. Because I wanted to be around them, I started playing sports even if I was not good.
Eventually you get better. And, because I enjoyed their company, I eventually enjoyed sports as well.
The same is true with gardening. I found that it is easier to keep the kids interested in gardening when they had something their age they could interact with and talk about what they did.
Help Them Along the Way But Let Them Do Most of the Work
While guiding them and giving them ownership goes a long way, they’ll need help every so often. This is where you come in. But, you don’t want to do things for them.
Instead, you want to guide and advise them. But, make them do the work. At times, I’ve had to show them how to do things but I always make sure to make them follow and do it alongside me. That way they learn to do it on their own and not just watch.
I also noticed that it is very important to step in and help before they reach the point of frustration. Because kids’ interest can be fickle, once they reach that point they may completely lose interest in gardening or what they’re currently doing.