By Jen Willette, TLC Preschool Teacher
Have you ever wondered how to involve your child in gardening? Involving children in the gardening and growing process can be exciting for both you and them (even if the initial thought strikes the fear of randomly dug holes, plucked seedlings, and mud - mud everywhere - in you). In addition to teaching botany, biology, ecology, the life cycle, and the deliciousness of a fresh veggie picked from the garden, gardening also teaches children many skills, from problem solving, to planning and implementation, to patience, and finally how to appreciate and enjoy the satisfaction of hard work, a job well done, and the final product: delicious, nutritious vegetables. Here are a few simple ways to get your children involved gardening:
1. Soil preparation: Children love to dig in the dirt! Invest in some quality child-size gardening tools and dig in the garden with your child to prepare the soil for seeds or seedlings. Removing the old and preparing the bed for new will help children learn about the season of spring and ecology of soil, and that in order to grow, we sometimes have to remove the old stuff! This can be done even with young two year olds.
2. Go seed and plant shopping with your children. Allowing them investment in this process will make gardening more concrete for them. Try to choose plants that mature quickly, along with those that take longer to mature. An example of this would be radishes (28 days) to pumpkins (90-100 days). Let your child pick a few seed packets that they can take ownership of from selecting, to planting, to caring for and harvesting. If your child is very young, seed packets make excellent rattles they love to shake as you shop.
3. Planting is fun, however, it is one of the shortest processes of gardening. Talking about what plants need to grow and get bigger at this time helps children understand more about why we do certain things, like adding compost and making mounds for melons. Teaching children how good soil, water, sun, and air that can move around helps plants grow will help the children see that all living things need different things to grow.
4. Watering! Who doesn’t love to play in the water on a hot summer day? Giving the plants a good soak on a hot day is important. Sometimes you can even see the difference in five minutes from a droopy plant to a happy plant, creating a great moment to talk to kids about the plant's response.
5. Bugs, Bugs, Bugs! Make it a point to look for different types of insects and living things in your garden. On a good day, you could spot a ladybug, spider, robin, and a snake all lounging about in your garden. All of these are important to the health of your garden and make it exciting to have a scavenger hunt to search for something new. Ladybugs, spiders, and robins all eat "bad" bugs that can chew away at your plants, and snakes help keep your garden clear of rodents and other small critters that would otherwise enjoy chewing on your carefully cultivated plants.
6. Weeding: I would love to say that children like to weed, but lets be honest…they don’t. Save yourself some frustration and do most of this yourself. Showing kids that weeds (plants we do not want) will also grow with the plants that we do want is a good skill for them to learn. Children who did not know the difference have pulled many plants that were meant to survive. To help cut down on weeding, you can implement companion planting techniques and teach kids about how some plants help each other grow better. For example, planting certain herbs around and between vegetables both helps the vegetables grow and suppresses weeds. Bonus: you have more fresh herbs to use in the kitchen!
7. Harvest time: This is often the most enjoyable part of gardening for children; seeing what their seeds turned into brings great satisfaction. Harvest your produce with your child and point out things that you notice: the root system, the size of the leaves, how many fruits the plant produced.
Gardening is not a guaranteed success. It is often a trial and error and the same is true of gardening with little people. The most important thing is involving them and allowing them to have some investment in the garden. Learning the value of hard work is a skill that will be useful for the rest of their lives. Most of all, have fun and enjoy the time with your kids.