Gardening is an activity that anyone can enjoy, but kids especially love getting their hands dirty. As well as enjoying free play in the mud, kids can learn valuable new skills, have fun, play and develop self-confidence, and learn about science.
Children gain special benefits from gardening, and activities are easily adjusted to suit each child’s age. As well as planting vegetables, fruits and flowers, kids of all ages can:
- Water the garden;
- Pick vegetables, fruits and flowers;
- Create a worm farm;
- Prepare healthy recipes using their picks;
- Harvest seeds, plants and flowers for crafts;
- Compost, recycle and mulch;
- Deadhead flowers;
- Prepare the soil;
- Replant and re-pot.
While doing so, children can learn:
- Understanding (cause and effect);
- Goal setting;
- To love nature;
- Reasoning and discovery;
- About nutrition;
- Maths and science concepts;
- About weather and agriculture.
When you think about what children gain from gardening, learning to grow things is just the beginning.
In today’s technology-fuelled world, it can be hard to convince children to spend time outdoors, but getting dirty in the garden is a fun-filled way to get them to do just that. The trick, however, is to make gardening rewarding, and you risk turning them off gardening altogether if nothing grows!
- Keeping things simple and starting small;
- Staying age-appropriate;
- Getting them their own lightweight, easy-to-handle tools;
- Giving them their own space;
- Involving them in the planning and design stages;
- Growing interesting, edible plants;
- Using a trellis or tepee;
- Planting flowers that attract butterflies, ladybirds and other interesting insects;
- Installing a water feature;
- Visiting a community garden for inspiration.
It’s also important that you keep children safe in the garden by:
- Not using over-sized tools;
- Keeping sprays and fertilisers out of reach;
- Securing gates and fences;
- Gardening organically whenever possible;
- Providing safe storage for equipment;
- Providing shade in summer;
- Protecting skin with sunscreen, a hat and appropriate clothing;
- Emptying buckets of water.
Designing your garden
Gardening with children provides numerous opportunities for hands-on learning, inquiry, observation, and experimentation. Gardening also helps children build an understanding and respect for nature and our environment, and when edible plants are used, children are more motivated to taste, eat, and enjoy fruits and vegetables.
For this reason, a fruit and vegetable garden is the ideal introductory gardening experience.
Before you decide what plants you want to include, you’ll need to decide on the size and dimensions of your garden beds. It may be useful to sketch out your plan on gridded paper to get an idea of how your garden fits in with existing elements of your outdoor space.
A good idea when gardening with young children is to keep beds narrow so that they can reach from all sides, or space beds far enough apart so that they can walk in between. Otherwise, you should prepare yourself for some trampling or knee-crushing moments.
As for whether you choose to plant directly in the ground or in raised beds depends on how much time you are willing to spend prepping your garden as well as personal preference. Raised beds tend to be easier than traditional in-ground planting as they don’t require cultivation, but be sure to use quality soil and long-lasting materials such as cedar, redwood, brick or stone.
Doing your research:
Always growing what does best in your area at the right time of year is one of the cornerstones of organic farming. Gardening can sometimes be tough and adding a fight with Mother Nature can turn it into an uphill battle you’ll never win. Knowing what climate zone you live in and the correct sowing times is important.
Green Harvest offers a great tool to help you in this journey, so do your research, keep a gardening diary and before you know it you’ll be dancing with the seasons.
Choosing your plants:
The best way to encourage enthusiasm for gardening is to choose plants that appeal to your child’s senses by adding plants that look good, taste great, smell nice and feel interesting to the touch. Look for a variety of colourful plants, vine-growing vegetables, unique shapes, and in-ground surprises that will germinate quickly and excite your kids.
For colour and shape, try:
Sunflowers: What kid doesn’t love the spectacular sunflower? Sunflowers come in a variety of sizes and colours, and some mammoth varieties grow to over 12 feet tall! Sunflowers are great fun because of their sun-chasing characteristics, not to mention the scrumptious seeds that follow.
Snapdragons: Snapdragons are fun for their many colours and sizes, but also because kids can pinch their blossoms to make the dragon’s mouth open.
Nasturtiums: Nasturtiums are so easy to grow, and the seeds are big enough for easy planting with kids. The flowers and leaves are edible, and the blooms are vibrant and fun. Better yet, nasturtiums spread fast by reseeding themselves.
For smell and taste, try:
Mint: Mint comes in numerous varieties and is always a favourite with kids. Mix it up and choose unique scents such as peppermint and orange, or chocolate and pineapple!
Dill: Dill has fun feathery foliage that kids enjoy and offers a beautiful scent the kids will love. It can also be added to a large range of dishes, or used as dinner plate decoration.
Beans: Beans are always a good choice for children, as they grow easily and their seeds are large enough to see. Growing beans can involve numerous processes, and can start simply using a jar and some cotton balls.
Strawberries: Strawberries are like nature’s sweet candy, and most kids will love burrowing in the leaves to find them. Harvesting strawberries is like a treasure hunt every time you enter the garden!
Tomatoes: Tomatoes, especially little cherry tomatoes, are a huge hit with kids and make an excellent bite-size snack. Why reach for the cookie jar when there’s fresh tomatoes to pick?
Pumpkins: For something a little different, look for the ‘Jack Be Little’ variety, which produces super cute miniature orange pumpkins.
Radishes: While an acquired taste, radishes germinate quickly making them a great option for impatient kids. The ‘Easter Egg’ is a popular variety, producing colourful egg-shaped red, purple and white radishes.
Cabbage: Cabbage can grow to an incredible size in as little as 10-12 weeks, making the process of growing hugely fun for little ones eager to see the results of their labour.
For touch, try:
Lamb’s Ear: This low-growing perennial has soft, silvery green leaves that kids love to touch.
Cotton: Cotton grows well and produces soft, fluffy white cotton buds. Adding it to your garden can give you a good opportunity to talk about the history of cotton and how it’s used today.
Essentially, kids love anything that awakens their senses or that they can enjoy in their own food creations. Giving them the opportunity to fill a garden space of their very own is a great way to encourage continual interest in the outdoors and nutrition.
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