The Complete Truth About Gardening With Kids
Gardening is an empowering and relaxing hobby and practice for adults, as well as kids. While you might be tempted to tell your kids to move along and find something else to do, some of my best memories come from spending time gardening with my children. They are beautiful memories that I will cherish throughout my lifetime.
A. Reasons Why You Should Garden With Kids
Trust me; I understand that gardening with kids makes gardening just a bit harder. While it is peaceful and tranquil work, kids need instruction, guidance and a watchful eye. To be honest, I spend a lot of my time gardening alone. We homestead, and I have certain deadlines to meet. My husband steps up to monitor the kids fully if I’m feeling a crunch, but I involve them as much as possible because I understand the benefits.
1. Work Ethic
Employers gripe all of the time that their younger employees lack a work ethic. It seems as if our culture has shifted to a belief that things should be given rather than earned through hard work.
Gardening is hard work, especially if you are striving towards producing a certain quantity of food. We have to grow the plants from seeds, plant them in the garden, tend to the plants by weeding and watering and take care of the harvest. There is a lot of work!
My kids work alongside me as often as possible. They weed and water, plant herbs and gather the harvest. At the end of the season, shelves lined with beautiful jars of food and fresh flowers blooming in the backyard show the effort of their work. Yes, it is hard, but gardening shows children that hard work leads to a great result.
2. Extra Family Time
We homeschool our children, but I’m a firm believer that you cannot have TOO MUCH family time. Parents spend a good portion of their day teaching their kids right from wrong, focusing on correcting misbehavior and praying for naptime. Gardening gives us a chance to decompress together.
Gardening has the benefit of being monotonous at times. Once you show your child a section of weeds to clear, it is a mindless task. You have ample time to ask your child about his day, about his new interests or even his favorite book. Take advantage of those moments.
3. Education and Food Appreciation
When we head to the grocery store, we are greatly disconnected from our food. Shelves are lined with boxes made in factories and meat from a farm far away from town. People have no idea where their food comes from anymore.
My grandfather once told me an interesting story. He grew up in the middle of a small city, close to where I live now. Each day, a trolley would go up and down the street. It contained fresh fruits and vegetables, along with live chickens and meat rabbits. His mother would go out and select what she wanted to purchase. If she wanted chicken, they would bring it inside and quickly butcher it. He grew up understanding and having a closeness to the food cycle.
Everyone has to eat, but not everyone wants to know the journey of their food. Gardening connects your child to food. When you place salad on the dinner table, he knows that he planted those lettuce seeds and how much work it takes. Everyone can benefit from this!
4. Hands-On Learning
Outside is a classroom you should use to your advantage. Gardening is an educational experience for all. Your child will encounter insects and bugs. Earthworms are fascinating for young kids, so grab some books on worms! Your child will water the garden. Do more than telling them to do so. Purchase books on flowers and the plant life cycle. Plus, toddlers think playing with dirt is a fantastic sensory experience.
5. Better Food and Healthier Choices
Do you have a picky eater? I do! My son is skeptical of all types of food, and he rarely is open to trying anything. The one way I can get him to try new food is to have him help plant and harvest from the garden. He was sure peas would be horrifying until he tasted their sweetness off the vine.
Maybe you can only sneak one or two new foods into your child, and that’s ok! If your kid loves one particular food, such as cucumbers, plant a lot of them! You will know that your child is eating the best quality food you can give them.
6. Teaches Patience
Patience is something many people struggle with, especially children. We want things to happen RIGHT NOW, and we are disappointed when that doesn’t happen. Gardening requires patience. You have to take time and give effort as you wait patiently for the harvest. It is just one way to work on showing your child that good things do come for those who wait, even if it is hard.
8. Less Screen Time
The amount of time that children, of all ages, spend in front of a screen is downright scary. We live in a world where a smartphone or tablet are commonly found in a child’s hand. Instead of running outside after school, kids go inside to play video games, get on social media, or chat with friends. At one time, their fun was outside in an imaginary world of fun, active games.
Change can be good, but the switch to a more sedentary lifestyle without a connection to nature isn’t a good change. There is no wonder that the obesity rates are increasing at a drastic rate. Getting your children outside to garden is just the first step to reducing the amount of time they spend inside on a screen.
9. A Sense of Purpose
Children deserve a sense of purpose in life. They want to feel as if they are a worthy part of your family. Chores and responsibilities encourage this sense of purpose in our kids. Handing over part of the gardening tasks to your children gives them a sense of belonging and job in the family. When your child harvests the lettuce that he planted and serves a salad for dinner, he will beam with pride especially when you remind him of his hard work!
10. Other Benefits (Infographic)
B. Dirt And Your Child’s Immune System
Toddlers love to eat dirt. It is like a rite of passage to chomp on dirt every time mom turns her back. Don’t rush to scrape it out of his mouth! There are some great reasons to let your kid eat a bit of dirt. I promise; it won’t hurt him!
Parents strive to keep a clean and healthy environment for their children, but over sanitation can cause more harm than good. People use an abundance of sanitizing hand gels and antibacterial soaps than ever before. Researchers call their theory the Hygiene Hypothesis and attribute a rise in disorders in children to the lack of exposure to bacteria earlier in childhood.
Since you have had a child, you understand that a baby’s natural instinct is to put things in their mouth. Toddlers and babies have a curious nature, and they use their mouth to explore the world. Doctors believe that putting things in their mouths, even if they aren’t sanitized, helps to develop the immune system.
1. Less Asthma and Allergies
Exposure to dirt is good for your child. Dirt contains bacteria and microbes. So long as you ensure the dirt he eats isn’t where your pets use the restroom and free of chemical pesticides, those microbes are beneficial. Exposing your child to these allergens can help to reduce wheezing, asthma and allergies because the microbes help develop the immune system cells inside of your lungs.
2. Digestive System Benefits
Bacteria inside of the soil aids your digestive system. There are inflammatory immune cells located inside of your colon that can lead to bowel diseases, such as irritable bowel disorder. When your child eats a yummy handful of dirt, it helps to heal his digestive system!
Those of us with clay soil have an extra benefit to eating a bit of dirt while gardening. Kaolin, a white clay substance in some soils, has been used to reduce stomach aches for centuries. If you eat too much kaolin, it can cause constipation, but a little bit helps to neutralize stomach acid. Think of it as a natural Tums!
When you garden with your children, they are bound to get a bit of dirt in their mouth. It serves a great purpose. Exposure to dirt from a young age helps to develop and support their immune system. So, while your kids are digging in the dirt, you can feel confident knowing it leads to healthier kids!
C. 5 Best Veggies To Grow With Kids
I have been gardening with kids since my youngest was around two years old. You technically can plant any veggie with your little ones, but there are certain veggies that my kids love more than other ones. They are typically the easiest ones to plant and produce veggies they actually like to eat.
Little fingers struggle to plant tiny seeds like carrot seeds. My fingers even struggle at times. Peas are large enough for even a toddler to pick up and plant. For my younger kids, I start off placing the peas where I want them to be and encouraging them to use their pointer finger to push the seeds into the ground. As they get older, peas are very easy to plant all by themselves, which is a great task for them. We grow over 300 pea plants, so I need the help! Plus, your kids can take peas right off the vine and munch.
2. Cherry Tomatoes
My older kids help to start tomato seedlings. The seeds are smaller, and I find tomatoes are a bit more finicky when it comes to planting requirements. However, they are easy to plant into the ground. I prefer a determinate tomato plant, which tends to be more compact. My kids love to pop off the cherry tomatoes and eat them like candy.
Just like peas, beans are easy for little kids to plant. You can line them up for smaller kids, or let your big kids do it all by themselves. Beans typically sprout out of the ground quickly, giving the kids some quick gratification for their work. Plus, when you grow over 200 bean plants as we do, you need all of the help. Harvesting beans is easy, and they can help to snap the ends off.
Cucumber seeds are large and easy for anyone to hold. Your kids can plant them along the ends of the beds if you have a support system for them to attach. They typically sprout out of the ground quickly as well. Kids can help to harvest cucumbers throughout the season and learn how to make pickles. They also make the perfect salad companion.
Kids love a good treasure hunt, and growing potatoes gives that to your kids. They may not love the planting, even though it is easy. However, the harvesting is like digging through a pile of dirt to find a surprise. You never know how many nor how big the potatoes will be.
D. Herbs And Plants To Grow With Kids
Kids can plant more than veggies! My kids love to help with herbs and our flower garden. They can appreciate beauty just as much as we do. Section off a portion of your flower bed just for your kids. They might plant the flowers too close together, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It won’t matter once you see their faces blossom with pride. Here are a few of our favorites.
Lavender is a beneficial herb that has many medicinal purposes. It has a lovely scent that my kids love to enjoy as they weed. You can start herbs at home from seeds or buy as a plant from a local nursery. Once harvested, your kids can help to make sleep pillows for their bedroom.
No flower garden is complete without marigolds. They are easy to grow and to maintain. My kids have quite a few in their flower beds. You can buy marigolds in a variety of colors.
Another easy flower to maintain is petunias. You will need to teach your child how to remove the deadheads, but that is an easy task. Petunias come in dozens of colors!
Not necessarily a flower or a herb, sunflowers are gorgeous and fun for kids. At first, they look like a giant weed, but soon it will show its true colors.
Basil is a sweet, strong-scented herb that grows nearly anywhere. I’ve never had trouble growing a large quantity of basil for our home. The kids love to go out and snip leaves for recipes!
E. 5 Easy Tips To Make Gardening With Kids Easier
Doing anything with little kids can be tricky. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to make it easier! Here are my favorite tips that I’ve learned along the way.
1. Give Them Sized Tools
Imagine trying to complete any task with a tool meant for someone triple your size. It wouldn’t be easy. Our kids struggle to use our brooms, and they will struggle to use our shovels and hoes. All of my kids have their gardening tools. You can find nice quality sets that will last for years when properly stored. I even buy my kids their own gardening gloves! They are taught how to store them after use to ensure they last for years. Kid-sized tools make gardening a lot easier for them, and that makes it easier for us.
2. Start Off Small
Don’t start off with ten raised beds and expect your kids to want to help. It will seem daunting! Start by introducing them to one task at a time. I first started by teaching my kids how to pull weeds. Little kids can be overzealous so be sure to watch carefully at first. You don’t want them removing your plants as well. Show them the different weeds and what needs to be pulled. Soon, they will identify the weeds on their own. Next, move onto a different task such as planting seeds or thinning seedlings.
3. Create A Child’s Garden
If you want your kids to enjoy gardening truly, give them their own garden bed. You can build a raised bed beside your garden. Allow them to select a few veggies or flowers to grow. It is important for them to make their selections, as long as they are practical. Make sure they know how special it is to have their own garden, but you’ll still need to remind them daily to take care of it!
4. Make It Fun
Gardening shouldn’t feel like a chore all of the time. When your kid wants to run off and chase butterflies, allow him. Forcing a love of gardening will never foster true love. It will become a task associated with misery. Instead, try some of the activities listed below and have fun when gardening. Talk and joke with your child so that they want to spend time with you there. Show off some insects and earthworms.
5. Build a Teepee
Teepees are fun for little kids, so make a teepee in your garden! Believe it or not, pole plants grow up nearly anything. You can use large sticks to create a teepee where peas, beans or cucumbers can grow up the sticks, casting shade down. Make sure there is a door for your child to enter. It will become his special spot to escape inside of your garden.
F. Children Safety While Gardening
You want your child’s memories of gardening always to be pleasant. You don’t want your garden to be a place of dangers rather than food and beauty. Kids learn first from their parents, so be sure to take the proper precautions with tools and chemicals, if you use them. Here are some other tips.
1. Adult Supervision
If you can’t afford a fence, you will need to keep a close eye on your child at all times while he is in the garden.
2. Remove Water Features
I know that many people love to have ponds or waterfalls inside of their garden beds. They are beautiful and attract other animals. However, your little child will love the water just as much. Drowning is in the leading causes of death for children. Once you have kids, it is best to remove all of these water features until they are old enough to be cautious.
3. Put Away Tools
You never want to leave tools laying around. Parents should set the best example by putting away the tools in a smart place. Power tools should never be left where a child can reach, including a lawn mower!
4. Child Sized Tools
Another reason I suggest buying child-sized tools is that it is much easier for kids to avoid cuts and injuries when using the right sized tools. Gloves also prevent chemicals from reaching his skin.
5. Keep Away Poisonous Plants
There are some plants that are dangerous to consume, such as foxglove. While they may be beautiful, kids love to touch and eat everything, especially if it grows berries. If your child is older, you can teach them what plants to avoid.
G. 10 Fun Gardening Activities With Kids
There are more than ten things you can do in the garden with your kids, but I picked out my favorite ideas. I won’t include the teepee because we listed it above, but it was always something my children enjoyed.
1. Plant A Rainbow
Does your child love colors and rainbows? Create a flower rainbow. You will need to buy flowers and plants in each color! Start off with white (for the clouds) and end with white. You can plant the flowers in an arch, such as a real rainbow, or in a straight line if that is easier for your space.
2. Paint Rock Markers
Every garden needs decoration! Rocks are readily available to everyone, so the cost of this project is only the cost of the paint and brushes. Your child can paint a ladybug or a rainbow on a rock. You could also paint the name of each herb or plant on a rock to use as a marker. Markers are important if you can’t remember what you planted! These would also be adorable gifts for friends and family.
3. Create A Fairy House
Another favorite activity is creating a fairy house for your child’s garden. Encourage your child to find natural items, because fairies prefer them. You can be as simple or creative as you want with a fairy house. Chances are your child will want to come back and add items all of the time.
4. Make A Recycled Bird Feeder
Birds can be welcome friends in your garden. Kids love to bird watch, and it is a fascinating activity for people of all ages. If you don’t want to buy a bird feeder, you can easily make them from recycled cartons.
5. Vegetable Painting
Kids love to paint. If you have a few veggies that you can spare, they make an excellent painting utensil. Cut carrots in half and let them dip the carrots into paint. Cucumbers, zucchini, leaves, peas, and beans can be used to make masterpieces.
6. Garden In An Old Boot
Who says you have to only plant in the ground? There are so many cool projects that kids love. My kids love to plant flowers in old boots, especially to give to their grandmothers for presents. You can use old rain boots. Fill them up with dirt and plant the flowers or veggies right on top. Kids can even paint or spray paint the exterior of the boot for a more exciting project!
7. Two Liter Tomato Hangers
Tomatoes can grow upside down. If your child wants to see the roots growing, try planting a tomato in a two-liter bottle. You will need to cut the end off and create holes to hang it. However, it is a great way to see the roots as they expand during growth.
8. Egg Carton Seed Starting
If your kids want to help start seeds, try doing so in an egg carton. You can create mini-greenhouses with them, and you probably have them readily available in your home. Each kid can plant 12 different plants. Plus, these are easier for them to carry!
9. Make A DIY Stepping Stones
No, they aren’t for stepping, but they make a beautiful decoration for a flower garden. You can decorate them with glass stones, mosaic tiles, or even paint. The sky is the limit! Kids love to be creative, and this is another option for a fantastic gift. We made these for my mother, and she still has them in her garden beds.
10. Paint Containers
Whether you do all container gardening or just have a few pots, they typically are a boring, solid color. Let your kids decorate the containers and then plant inside of them. They could paint flowers, butterflies, or even their names. It is a great way to add a splash of color to your patio and get them involved. We always have a few peppers growing in pots, and my kids love to decorate the pots each year.
Gardening with your kids is a fun time that leads to education and bonding. The time you spend with them will encourage a love of nature and an appreciation for the food they grew, along with the natural beauty outside. Start off small and allow their interest to blossom of the years. Before you know it, you will have a small, gardening expert in your house.
Do you garden with your kids? If so, I would love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments.