To many adults, gardening seems like an intimidating venture, but mention gardening with kids and I’ll often receiving an ‘oh, I could never do that!” response. But, with a little preparation, you CAN do it and actually have fun at the same time!
My daughter is 8, and my son is 6. They both started wanting to participate in the garden around 4/5 years old. At first, it was more just playing around in the dirt and helping to dig with their kid-sized tools I found for them. However, at the ages they are now, they can easily plant seeds, plants, water, weed, and harvest. In fact, if I’m not watching, they will go out and start picking stuff and watering completely on their own. I have so many radishes in my kitchen right now I don’t know what to do with them all! My daughter picked the first turnip of the season the other day. She then asked, “Can I eat this,” and before I could answer she took a big bite out of it. “A bit spicy,” she replied and carried it into the house.
In our experience, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the plants we grow are ones that they eat (though usually, if they grow it, they’ll try it). Kids – at least these kids – take great pleasure in harvesting and then bringing their bounty to their parents…as long as the parent shows appreciation and excitement in receiving it. Preparing it and making a big show of it at the supper table goes a long way, too.
How can you get your children into the garden? Here are some suggestions:
Make the garden child-sized. 2-4 square feet will easily suffice, and raised beds are especially easy for children to work around. You can integrate this small plot with a larger, family garden or make it a separate children’s area.
My kids seem to like plants that appeal to their senses and spark their imagination. They really enjoy large plants such as sunflowers or corn, and tiny plants such as Thumbelina carrots. Unusually shaped plants such as kohlrabi also fascinate them. Harvest time is fun, especially if they have to hunt for the produce, as in the case of sweet potatoes. Radishes and turnips are a favorite because they’re pretty easy to pick and the size can be somewhat of a surprise when pulled. Flowers are also a nice touch, and the children seem to enjoy picking them for me on a regular basis (and it’s lovely to be “surprised” with a freshly picked bouquet). Specific plant suggestions that have worked well for us:
- Radishes (quick germination/sprout times)
- Anything that vines – cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelons, gourds (check out the birdhouse gourds and other ‘unusual’ varieties)
- Cherry tomatoes (they love eating these straight from the plant)
- Marigolds and zinnias add a colorful touch plus they benefit your garden
- Sunflowers, check out the Mammoth varieties
Advance preparation goes a long way to ensure gardening success with young ones. Have the soil worked/tilled up and loose so that they can easily plant or sow seeds. They won’t need a big assortment of tools, but a child-sized hoe, hand cultivator, and spade are helpful to have handy. Don’t forget to bring to the garden the seeds, plant markers, and a Sharpie.
Most of all, HAVE FUN!!! Gardening is an adventure, a journey to learn new things. It’s ok to get dirty…that’s the fun part for a kid! These suggestions are meant to simply be a guideline; I’ve found success with them and hope you do too.
Leave us a comment below about what your kids have enjoyed planting and harvesting!
Although Stacy De Smet grew up on a dairy farm in south-central Pennsylvania, she never anticipated becoming a farmer herself, but that's exactly what happened when she and her family moved to a small farm in Taft, TN, in November of 2005. Over the years they have turned Misty Ridge Stables into a thriving family farm. In addition to boarding horses and running a local CSA, they also offer classes in canning, gardening and many other farm related topics.