I have been gardening with children for the past 6 years. My kids and whatever stray kids that have found their way into my yard, love feasting on the edible landscape that THEY have helped to grow. I think that children should be comfortable in their outdoor environment and it is of the highest importance that children learn to grow food; for their health and for long-term sustainability. If you still need some more convincing as to why it is of the utmost importance to teach our children to garden, check this post out.
Let me offer you 11 tips and tricks for getting your kids in the garden!
1. Fun equipment.
There is surprisingly a lot of gardening equipment geared towards kids. Aurora started watering the garden when she was 2, not because she understood that plants needed water for survival, but because she had her own special bright blue watering can with flowers all over it.
You can get gardening gloves that fit kids as well as spades and rakes designed for smaller hands. I don’t think you have to break the bank on this one. I often find stuff at second hand stores or discounted at the end of the season.
This wheelbarrow: A classic back-alley find!
He’s the muscles in this operation! Helping me haul noxious weeds in his trusty wheelbarrow!
You also don’t need to buy every product out there. If each kid has one dedicated piece of gardening equipment of their own, it helps to foster a sense of excitement about using it.
Another great piece of equipment to have is a hose with a spray gun attachment. Who doesn’t love a water gun with never ending flow? Am I right? I once went a few years without a sprinkler because the kids were so enthusiastic about getting to water the garden with the spray gun.
2. There is no such thing as a chore, just a CHALLENGE.
Let me preface this by saying that I believe in unstructured outdoor play and most of my kids’ out door time is spent this way. I also believe that teaching a kid a skill, especially one like gardening, does involve an element of “work”.
My husband Andrew and I, view our children doing age appropriate chores as a vital way for them to learn responsibility and work ethic. When it comes time to do chores, if the weather allows, we often offer them the choice of doing an inside or outside chore.
One important thing to remember, whether it’s a chore or not, is to make sure you are framing your request for gardening help in a way that doesn’t sound like drudgery.
Instead of asking them to do a chore, I challenge them…e.g. “How fast can you pick 20 rocks from the veggie garden?” or “How many baby food jars of marigold seeds can you collect?” or “How many piles of leaves can you rake?”.
I like to KEEP CHALLENGES SMALL, GOALS ATTAINABLE. If I say, “Hey, go see how many rocks you can find!” and let them go, they will lose interest within minutes. If I give them objectives like: “Here is a small yogurt cup, go see how many green beans you can fit in there”, it gives them a specific objective with quantifiable, easily attained goals. (They may just learn some math too!) Kids view it as a fun game, when we’re actually sneaking some cool skills in there too! Shhh. Don’t tell them.
How many beans can you find?
Make sure you are cheering them on and praise any effort they put into the challenge. I like to praise how hard they worked over the actual outcome. I always ask them at the end of a challenge: “Are you proud of all the hard work you did?” I want them to recognize their tenacity.
3. Offer incentive.
Whether my kids are gardening for fun, or if it is a chore, I try to always compensate them for their hard work. My children are motivated by different things. Figure out what your kids motivating rewards are. Some examples are: “For every yogurt cup you fill with weeds from the garden, I will give you: a) .25 cents, b) a small treat c) 2 minutes of screen time. You know your kid and what makes them tick!
This is also a great way to teach the value of work and compensation. If a challenge isn’t done correctly, I gently encourage them to remember the specifics of the challenge before they can collect their reward.
Make sure that the reward compensates the work of the challenge. I’ve learned this the hard way. Consider how hard it is and the time it takes them to do the task. If the compensation is too little and the challenge too big, they will lose interest and quit because the goal will feel unattainable. If you make the challenge too easy and the reward too big you’re going to get fleeced. I’m speaking from experience. My kids are wily little creatures.
Keep balance in mind when formulating incentives. I have started asking Aurora to think about what her compensation should be and we negotiate to a middle ground. Not only is negotiating a valuable skill to have, I have found this offers incredible insights as to how she values herself and I am so proud of her self-fostered appreciation for her hard work.
4. Get kids to sow all the big seeds.
Aurora voluntarily seeded almost the entire garden when I was 9 months pregnant and couldn’t bend over!
I learned how to garden because I was handed a packet of Swiss chard seeds as a kid and shown exactly what to do with them. You can’t imagine how proud I was when I finished my first row.
- Pound two stakes at either end of your row and tie a string between the two, about 1 inch off the ground.
- Using your index finger make a furrow under the string. This ensures you are planting in a straight line and helps the little ones to remember to not step on the row.
- Make the furrow as deep as the seed packet instructions dictate.
- Ask your child to hold their hand in a cup shape. Portion out about 10 seeds.
- Show your kids how to place one seed in the ditch at a time.
- TIP** Snap a small twig the length of the seed spacing as indicated on the back of the packet. Place the seed down, then the correct size twig and then another seed. Move the twig in front of the last seed planted and repeat!
- Once the entire row is sown show them how to pinch the soil back over top the seeds.
Indoor seeding and growing is a great way to extend the growing season, but an even better way to break out of the winter blues for parents and kids alike.
- Look at the back of seed packet for indoor growing instructions.
- Instead of digging a trench, just indent the soil with your finger to the right depth and get your child to drop the seed in place and pinch the dirt back over the seed.
Some seeds that are large enough for kids to plant:
- Swiss chard
- Sweat pea
Use your judgement. If you have a hard time portioning out a seed because it’s small, your kid will too.
5. Do the first half of the job and get them to finish.
This works really well when kids aren’t quite old enough to do the entire task on their own. For example with toddlers and preschoolers, when we seed peas, I poke my finger into the dirt up to my first knuckle and get the little one to drop the seed in the hole and pinch the dirt back over top.
Or, now that Aurora is older, she is interested in helping turn dirt over in order to prepare for seeding. I simply show her where to line up the garden fork, she hops on it (her favourite part) until it sinks in and then pries it up – only occasionally needing some extra mommy muscle. We break up the soil with our hands and I am currently teaching her how to identify noxious weed roots in order to eradicate them from our soon to be medicinal herb garden.
6. Make your yard a kid wonderland.
Design your outdoor space with kids in mind. Visual interest is paramount in engaging children. Add fun visual elements like garden sculptures, wind chimes, ornaments, etc. Again – you don’t have to break the bank. It also doesn’t have to be cheap dollar store either. I’ve been there and done that – it’s just too poorly made and doesn’t last the season.
Bird feeders and birdhouses, which can also be up-cycled, are another great way to add visual interest and also a great way to expose children to our feathered friends. Birds, in turn help reduce the pests in your yard!
Give the kids their very own garden plot.
Pick plants and flowers that can take some rough play. Common ground covers are ideal because they are meant to be stepped on. Some other common plants that are hardy enough to withstand children are: sunflowers, chives, clover, day lilies, and most plants that do well in a rock garden. Get the kids to help plant and water them.
My kids wanted to set their space up as a fairy garden so I scoured thrift stores for all the miniature stuff I could find. It literally cost me a few dollars to purchase and the kids set it up to their liking. They play for hours with their animal figurines in their cute little fairy village.
Fairy princess Aurora.
** Import your kid’s passion into a garden setting. My son Auggie is OBSESSED with trains so we are planning to build a G-Scale track (garden scale) right in the middle of our backyard!**
** I was chatting with a reader on Facebook about the different ways to involve kids in the garden and she said that she dug a small square garden and surrounded it with short decorative garden fencing. On the outside of the fencing she planted sunflower seeds and by the end of summer, her child had a play house made from sunflowers! What a BRILLIANT idea!**
One of the most important ways to involve your kids in gardening is by letting them have a say. Involve them in decisions by offering choices. For example, if you’re picking out flowers for your front porch pots, chose the proper type of flower to ensure that you can grow it according to it’s needs, but then let the kids choose the colour.
If you decide to make a craft or DIY garden feature, involve your kids as much as possible in the project, as their age allows.
7. Teach your kids how to identify plants.
This is a very important aspect of horticulture practice. If your kids don’t know what plants are what, they are liable to eat something they shouldn’t. Not only do I make sure there aren’t any highly toxic plants in my children’s vicinity, I have a very strict policy that my kids aren’t allowed to eat anything unless they can properly identify it.
Once they can name it they have access to that individual plant/tree for the rest of the season. And boy do they take advantage of it! I can tell when my kids have mown down the chive patch, they have onion breath for daaaaaays.
Take opportunities to talk about different plant features such as what shape the leaves are, what it’s flower and fruit look like, and the colours and textures of that particular plant. Not only is this great for teaching shapes, textures and colours, your kids will be able to learn and memorize which plants are which. Always talk about what is edible and what is not!
8. While out in nature you’re going to come across creepy crawlies. Don’t freak out.
In order for your child to avoid phobias of bugs and spiders the first thing you need to do is control your own phobias regarding these little critters. Children learn to react to bugs due to what we model.
I’ve had a nausea inducing phobia of spiders ever since I can remember. Spiders and moths. I’m talking gut wrenching, scream inducing repulsion. When my kids came along, I realized right away that my daughter copied every reaction I had to seeing winged insects and spiders. So, instead, whenever we came into contact with a creepy crawly, I immediately put on my poker face and with trepidation, I would recite every little bit of information I knew about that particular insect and encouraged the kids to take a closer look. We treated it as a learning experience and I credit that for my children’s curiosity for bugs, instead of terror.
In fact, my kids get so excited about bugs that they treat finding them almost like a treasure hunt! I’ll hear them randomly call out, “Found a lady bug!” “Found a daddy long legs!” “Found a worm!” Not all of my kids like to touch them, but when they see one, instead of shrieking and running away, they like to observe and imagine.
And I’m proud to say that this method has helped me over come my own arcanaidphobia too. I’m still not ecstatic about them, but I don’t feel like vomiting – unless they’re actually accidentally touching me. Ugh. Shudder…..
I made a friend while photographing some squash.
9. Experiment with different kinds of fruits/veggies and recipes.
Figure out which way your kids like to eat the fruit and veggies they are growing and harvesting. My older children have a strong aversion to most cooked veggies and 100% of the time will chose to eat them raw. It was annoying at first, but I realized that eating raw veggies was the healthier mode of consumption, so why the heck was I complaining?
Now we serve both cooked AND raw veggies. Also my kids REFUSE to eat string beans UNLESS they are pickled. PICKLED! Who knew?
Now we serve both cooked AND raw veggies. Also my kids REFUSE to eat string beans UNLESS they are pickled. PICKLED! Who knew?
Try new recipes and experiment with cooking methods until you find something they love!
Experimenting with homemade juiced apple, beet, swiss chard popsicles
(I added grape jello to make them dripless)! They were a BIG hit!
I don’t know about you, but my tastes have changed over my life and I’ve also witnessed my children’s taste change as they grow. The one rule in our house is that everyone (including mom and dad) has to try each different food that is served at a meal by taking a medium size bite, chewing it and swallowing it. If they are completely repulsed they don’t have to eat it… Although – we do strongly encourage a couple bites of the green healthy stuff no matter what – just to maintain a balanced diet.
Here’s the catch. Every few months, they are expected to try foods that they have previously disliked just to see if their “taste buds have grown.” It’s always so exciting when a kid tries something they previously disliked and realizes their taste buds have matured! This method has helped Auggie, my pickiest eater, overcome a lot of his food aversions.
That being said, when you’re planning what veggies to grow, take into consideration what food your kids will actually eat. If you grow a row of something they refuse and won’t eat it ANY way it’s cooked, either you end up eating 30 pounds of squash or it ends up on the compost heap.
What I typically do is to grow about 80% kid approved veggies, and then 20% is available to plant what Andrew and I like, and for experimenting with new veggies.
10. Unless it’s time specifically set aside for chores, gardening is NOT mandatory.
Do I make my children garden in their free time? No. But I encourage it and try to make it as fun as possible if they choose to. I want to entice them, but I also recognize that gardening isn’t a passion for everyone and I’m happy if any effort big or small is given.
Typically they are all excited to be a part of a new garden challenge, but understandably attention spans wane. When they do it’s important for them to have as much OUTDOOR unstructured, semi- unsupervised play time as possible.
Which brings me to my last suggestion:
11. Have a space in your yard dedicated to imaginative play.
Otherwise known as “keeping all the crap in one place”.
For our family, I thought that a play house would be ideal as it offered a play structure and storage solution all in one. I scoured our local classified app, Kijiji and found this formerly dilapidated tree fort.
I built a little stage into the side of the tree house so the kids could put on puppet plays!
We had to bring it home in a Uhaul. Oh my poor husbands back! (I made him move it across the yard. Twice. Love you Andrew!)!!
The inner structure was good (if not quite level, lol) and it came with TWO slides and 3 swings. All for $300! I ripped the cracked plastic siding pieces off, replaced them with old fence boards I rescued from the dump, rebuilt the roof and sided in the bottom level for even more storage space.
I stabbed a poole noodle with a chop stick, hooked it up to the garden hose and attached the whole thing to the swing set with bungee cords for a homemade splash park!
This play structure was worth every penny! The kids have spent thousands of hours in it, and it has allowed me to spend time along side them while I putter around in the garden. Every year we make small improvements and add special features whenever I can find free stuff on Kijiji.
Last year we built a sandbox big enough to fit all the kids in it! Because I was able to source the lumber materials from kijiji and most of the sand from a generous neighbour, this feature was very inexpensive!
I know sometimes it feels like we just want to get work DONE. Adding a kid into the mix is a sure fire way to make the task take more time and effort than if we were to just power away alone.
I know all you caregivers are picking up what I’m putting down.
I struggle with this a lot.
Something that has helped me is to portion out my time in the yard. When my two-year-old is up I know I can’t get serious business done. I’m chasing that little ragamuffin around the yard and playing. If she’s happily occupied in the sand box and wants some independent time (and boy does she let me know!), I’ll go over to the garden and dig or weed – nothing too thought consuming, so I can still keep an eye on what she’s doing.
But when she’s down for a nap:
Once I’ve got my 1 hour gardening ‘work-out’ done for the day, I’ll ask the older kids if they want to join me in on some gardening fun! Most of the time they want to, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they just want to play in the garden beside me. Either way they are being raised in the dirt, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
I love gardening with my kids; not only do I get to educate them on something I’m passionate about, I get to spend quality one-on-one time with them. Time away from screens, homework, and other life pressures. I get to learn about who they are as people and get to watch them learn and grow.
I can’t tell you how rewarding this has been for me.
I really hope you were inspired or found some ideas that could work for you! Comment here or on Renaissance Revival’s Facebook page wall
or post if you would like to chat about other great ideas to get kids gardening. I would love to hear from you!