Tips For Involving Children In The Garden
Gardening with kids
I spend a number of hours each week in my vegetable garden. To keep my six year old and three year old interested, and happy to come out with me, I introduced them to gardening from the time they were babies. My six year old is now at school, he loved being in the garden. My three year old is more of a challenge, he would prefer to be inside. I have had to work hard at each of these items below to keep my youngest son engaged and happy so that I can get some garden-based activities completed each week.
Mr Fresh and I both enjoy being outdoors and we involve the boys in all of the outdoor activities and projects that we are working on. It is a rich learning environment that allows them to learn and develop a broad range of skills and knowledge.
A vegetable garden is a wonderful learning environment for children. We talk about food in our home A LOT! The vegetable garden acts as the basis for these discussions, the meal preparation process and also the meals.
How to involve the children in the garden :
Group activities (or garden tasks) together. Don’t start a large activity with the expectation that you will finish it the same day. Complete a little of the activity over multiple days in blocks of 1-2 hours.
- This ensures that you are not outside for one entire day per week.
Don’t be overly concerned about the children getting wet or dirty
- Let them to create their own games and activities. Provide “outside” clothes. Sometimes this requires clothes to be removed at the back door at the end of a gardening session. I also have an old towel on standby for drying off.
- Children love to feel and experience the dirt, water, sun, wind, and all elements of being outside
Allow your kids to choose if they wish to be involved in what you are doing and help, or not.
- They may choose to play in the sandpit, dig in the dirt, play with cars, or bikes, or play a game of their choice. If they are happy creating their own games let them do so and get on with what you need to do!
Carry the garden activities into the kitchen
- My children enjoy collecting produce and then helping to prepare dinner with it, or use it in baking. That is another story …
Create a routine. Our routine for stepping out to the garden is:
- Put on “outside” clothes. These are clothes that can get dirty without anyone (mum) getting upset!
- Putting on sunscreen and/or hat in Summer months or a hat and coat in cool months
- Put on suitable shoes
Garden activities involving kids:
Collecting, drying and planting seeds
- Participating in the cycle of growing can be very rewarding. My 5 year old has been fascinated by the process of collecting the seeds, planting and then growing and collecting again.
- The duration of the cycle is a wonderful thing to share with kids. It is a long cycle and provides the understanding of seasonality. It has helped my children to understand that all types of food is not available all the time, or immediately.
Labelling and caring for plants
- My six year old has been doing the writing on tags that label that plants. This is helpful practice for both his reading and writing skill development. It also provides a feeling of pride and achievement when these seeds grow the following year and he gets to harvest and enjoy eat them. He can look back at his writing and see how much it has developed and improved in the year.
- Caring for the plants, and creating a regular routine of checking well being and watering helps children to understand that some things take time and effort before a reward (harvest) can be achieved. They are contributing to the rewards that the garden provides when it is time to harvest and take produce to the kitchen to eat.
Collecting produce, identifying readiness by color, and size
- Using gentle handling techniques and discussing the characteristics and properties of that vegetable are all part of this activity.
- Removal and identification of weeds is an important part of vegetable gardening. I have spent time showing both children what weeds look like and how to remove them. It takes a little time to help them identify vegetables at various stages of growth so that they do not remove small vegetable plants!
- Learn to use a shovel, turn the compost, identify when it is ready to add to the garden beds
- Develop an understanding of food waste and recycling from the kitchen to the garden
Identify garden bugs – pests and friends
- My 6 year old likes to bring his magnifying glass out to look for bugs and sometimes his bug book to identify them. They both also love to collect and destroy pests such as snails from the garden and to collect worms to add to the warm farm. They have both developed a basic understanding that some bugs are helpful in the garden and some are not. They are gentle and caring with the worms and love to talk about what the worms like to eat, how they move through the soil and how they help the plants. They are not so gentle with the snails and slaters that attempt to feed on our plants…
Establish the concept of gardening and it’s produce as a valuable gift
- Create garden based presents for friends and family. I think that this helps children to place a value on things from the garden.
- We have gifted teachers and friends garden related gifts for the last few years at the end of the year (or food related gifts that we have made from our own, or local produce) Examples include the garden markers and seedling pots accessible via the links below.
There are many fun activities that can fill up your days in the garden:
These are some of the garden based projects that we have had fun with over the past few years:
- Start a worm farm
- Make a garden scarecrow
- Making silver spoon garden markers
- DIY clay garden markers
- Newspaper Seedling Pots
Do you have any additional tips for involving kids in the vegetable garden? I would love to hear them in the comments below.
*This is a revised version of a post originally created for Easy Read Systems.