Gardening with your children can be a wonderful and rewarding experience. It can broaden their food horizons and open new learning opportunities for the family. Depending on your child’s age, it can also be challenging. Little children, especially under 2, can get into everything and pull up those vegetables before they’re ready to be harvested or grab all the labels of your transplants leaving you confused with what’s what. I’ve known a family to send their kids to harvest all the cucumbers from the greenhouse and came back with a whole pile of un-ripe watermelons. Oops! Gardening with children is a learning curve, full of fun and challenges. Here I break down the different gardening stages and some helpful guidelines for each process.
Family Garden Planning
I think garden planning is the easiest aspect of gardening with children. First off you want to sit down and create a list with your children to get an idea of what to grow. By asking them what they’d like in their little garden you’re guiding them to make choices about what they eat. Write down 5 -10 of your child’s favorite fruits or vegetables and then determine what you’re able to grow based on your garden space. Even if you only have a balcony or small urban backyard you can create a magical children’s garden by growing many things in pots, like colorful pink swiss chard, kale or lettuce. Urban gardens are a perfect place for trellising cucumbers, squash or beans, as it’s a great space saver. Consider different colored vegetables too to make them fun and appealing.
Tips & Tricks: Create a garden plan with old seed catalogs! Up-cycling old seed catalogs to create a garden collage is a great way for kids to imagine what their little garden could look like. Using the list of vegetables they like, they can cut out pictures and glue them to paper for a nice visual breakdown of what they’ll be growing.
Depending on what your growing you’ll either be direct seeding in the garden, starting your transplants inside or purchasing them from your local nursery. Seeding is amazing for kids to witness so I would highly recommend direct seeding at least some of them; it’s neat to see a seed sprout and grow into a plant! If you’re buying transplants you can make it a fun trip with your kids to visit your local nursery or garden center.
Tips & Tricks: Children can be great helpers at filling up pots of soil, which is often a tedious task for grown ups. Our 2 year old has happily played in the dirt next to me during seeding, sure it’s messy but it keeps them busy. You’ll want to use large seeds for small children such as squash, beans, and peas and leave the smaller seeds like carrot, lettuce, and broccoli for the adults or older children. Mini hand seeders can be good for kids to help seed as they drop small seeds at a time rather than having them in their hands with the risk of losing them. Become creative with labels, there are many ideas online for some crafty garden labels, painted on stones, spoons… all sorts of ways! If you’re growing transplants write down what is what as back up in case those quick busy toddler hands pull up the labels.
Watering, Observing & Taking Care of the Garden
Looking after the garden is often the hardest part of gardening with children. There’s endless weeding to be done, careful management of soil amendments and watering. It’s also the greatest learning opportunity for kids by watching how each vegetable or fruit changes week by week. Let them take notes and write down the changes they see. Look online for information on how bees pollinate our food and see how it happens in the garden. A big challenge here lies with keeping little ones occupied while you get some weeding done.
Tips & Tricks: Children can help water the garden with guidance as to how much and how often. Create a play area within the garden to help keep kids rooted to one area while you get things done. Building ‘soil’ castles can help keep toddlers busy, as can sandboxes or water play in a pool or a sprinkler. If you have a baby you can bring the exersaucer into the shade or take him/her for a stroller ride and park it in a shady area once they’ve taken a nap (use a beach umbrella if there is no natural shade). Older kids can sit and chat with you, read, draw, help weed or harvest. The younger the kids, the harder it’ll be to get things done. Given the right outdoor activities and toys you can at least gain some time in the garden and everyone will be getting fresh air and sunshine.
Oh the harvest! That glorious time when you can finally taste the fruits of your labor. After spending weeks or months waiting patiently and observing things grow, kids can finally taste what they’ve been growing. Fresh food tastes so much better than store bought food because it’s harvested when it’s ripe, not days or weeks before so it has a shelf life.
Tips & Tricks: Have little baskets handy for kids to help with the harvest. Show them what are weeds and what’s food as it can be confusing at first. Small scissors are great for older kids to cut salad greens. Small shovels can help find potatoes hidden in the soil and be a treasure hunt game. Some foods like beans and peas produce more the more they’re picked, a great task for little kids to take part in. Leave harvesting things like pumpkins or zucchini to the adults because of prickly vines as well as the more delicate fruits like tomatoes. Wash berry hands right away so they don’t stain!
If you’re living in town or you don’t have much space to garden, check out
Making Dinner as a Family
Perhaps one of the most cherished moments with gardening is bringing the harvest inside and preparing a meal together as a family. Cooking a meal from scratch with your children shows them how food can be transformed from seed to table. Seeing how veggies can become a meal is the final product of the gardening journey. From washing off the dirt to sitting down and eating, there is something wonderful about connecting with one another over food. Better yet, there is no better taste than garden veggies, you might be surprised at how much more your kids like their vegetables!
Tips & Tricks: Children can help shell peas, scrub dirt off root vegetables and zip kale off stems. They can help decide what to make with the fruits or vegetables and get creative with what’s in season and available. Older children can help chop vegetables after giving them the proper safety guide.
In the end, gardening with children will bring family memories that are rich and meaningful. Growing some of your food will broaden their appreciation and can be a great educational experience.
Do you have any tips or funny experiences from gardening with your children?
Isis is a homesteading mama to 2 beautiful girls and lives in the Canadian mountains. The little family of four is experimenting with winter gardening and permaculture and they’re aiming to grow mostly heirlooms to help preserve seed genetic diversity. They spend their spare time preserving the harvest, homeschooling and enjoying outdoor adventures. They keep chickens, forage for wild free food and aim for a natural family lifestyle. Follow their journey towards self-reliance on the blog Little Mountain Haven.