The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and warmer weather is finally here! What better way to enjoy the outdoors then to cultivate a love of gardening and fresh fruits & vegetables. Garden games and other creative approaches to gardening activities can inspire kids to explore and learn all while having a good time! According to www.childrenandnature.org, participating in gardening has several lifelong benefits for children including: healthy eating and nutrition, increase in science achievement and attitudes towards learning, positive social and interpersonal skills, and enhanced stewardship. Don’t know where to start? Read on for some of my best tips and ideas.
Give kids their own garden beds
Whether you use raised beds, containers or ground plots, be sure to give each child his or her own separate garden plot. Keep it small so as not to be overwhelming for younger children. Your young child will appreciate a garden no bigger than 2×2 or 2×4. Increase the garden size as children grow and gain experience. Be sure to set them up for success by putting their plots in the middle of the action, with the best soil and light conditions.
Engage them through the entire process
Children learn better when they understand the context of their activity. They will learn that gardening can be fun in addition to contributing to the family well-being. Besides planting and nurturing their garden beds, be sure they do as much of the project as possible on their own. This will instill a sense of confidence and responsibility.
Show off their work
When giving ‘garden tours’ to friends, be sure to point out the children’s plots. Take a photo of their harvest and post on social media accounts for family and friends to see or create a garden memory album to store photos, drawings, and other information about their garden. The positive attention given to their work is the best motivator for children to stay involved with a project. After all, we all love recognition for a job well done!
Grow Easy Low Maintenance Plants
Plant fruits, vegetables, and flowers that are appropriate for your regional zone and are easy to grow. My favorite kid-friendly plants are
- bush beans
- potatoes (red & white)
- cherry tomatoes
Use kid friendly tools
Increase fun and involvement by engaging kids in every aspect of gardening. From preparing the soil to planting, weeding and harvesting, kid size tools are easy to use and encourage kids to participate in garden tasks.
Complete the cycle
Teach children about the food cycle by composting left over organic material. Making compost is fun and easy. Kids get to touch dirt, see worms, and watch how their food scraps break down into soil. The experience of composting shows us that nature is a cycle. Things grow, die, decay, and return to the earth to help other things grow.
Start planning your gardens with your kids in the winter. Let them browse seed catalogs and chose flowers or vegetables they want to grow. Use an online garden planner or create a layout map on paper to be sure your space will accommodate the number of plants you have chosen in your plan. However if you want to begin now, there are many plants that can be sown directly into the ground and harvested through fall.
Whenever your children are with you in the garden, make sure there are no fertilizers, pesticides or manure within reach. Keep any sharp or motorized tools out of their way, and keep a close watch on what they put into their mouths! Start early to teach young children never to put any plant part in their mouth unless you approve. Garden buckets or other open containers should not be left out if filled with six inches or more of water because they can be a drowning hazard. Remember to keep a constant eye on young children as their attention span is short and it’s all too easy for them to get in an unsafe situation very quickly as you probably already know.
Reuse the sandbox
If your children have grown past their sandbox years, consider converting the old sandbox to a garden bed. This gives the child a feeling of ‘ownership’ of a familiar space and encourages a sense of responsibility to the garden.
Make the garden engaging by inviting butterflies to visit!
Nothing is more exciting than to have surprise visitors, especially colorful ones with wings! Butterflies are important pollinators that help our garden bloom so we can have fruit and vegetables. Select an accessible area in your garden to hang a butterfly feeder. Be sure to choose a site where everyone can easily view the action. To attract a variety of butterflies, keep the feeder filled with nectar and also provide fruit slices.
Gear a garden project to your kids
Theme gardens are a big hit with kids. Garden themes such as a pizza garden are both exciting and encourage imagination. Choose a location and explain that you’ll grow pizza ingredients like basil, tomatoes, and green peppers. Once you harvest veggies from that spot, have your child make the pizza with you.
Grow marigolds and grass in the shape of your child’s name or initial. To start, clear off a couple of square yards of soil. Have your child draw her name in the soil with her finger. Your child can then add marigold seeds into the letters. Fill in with grass seed between and around the letters. Cover the seeds lightly with soil, water in gently and check back every few days.
Tailor fun for your gardener-in-training
Keep your children’s passions in mind. Extend what they love into the garden. Give your little fashionista a pretty garden hat with matching gloves to wear while pulling a weed or two. Suggest a gear-head use a toy tractor to drop seeds in a row.
Use Photo & Video Based Services for Ideas
Check out sites such as Pinterest and You Tube for ideas and tutorials. People love to show off their creations and share their own “How To’s”. A simple gardening search will yield hundreds if not thousands of results.