Above: Lovebug (right), Cuteness Everbean (center) and Dad shovel dirt from our generous neighbors delivered dirt pile.
Gardening with Kids
Gardening with kids has the potential to reap so much more than the produce and flowers you plant! You are helping your children blossom, too! They can learn about science and practice motor skills, math, responsibility, and more. By gardening and spending time in nature, they develop a deeper connectedness to the earth. Research suggests that this connection to the earth results in happier, healthier, and more environmentally-conscious children (Barrable, 2019; Barrera-Hernández et al, 2020; Dyment & Bell, 2008; Langellotto & Gupta, 2012; Libman, 2007; Yost & Chawla, 2009). With so many benefits to gardening with kids, we have been determined to include our children on our gardening journey.
Continue reading for ideas on how to incorporate your kids into the gardening experience. You will find ways to incorporate them in each stage of gardening and adaptations for different ages and abilities.
Preparing the Garden
Children can be an engaged and active part of preparing for the garden. There may be some aspects that are best left to the grown ups, but the more you can include them in the process, the more ownership they develop over the gardening experience. Some ideas for incorporating your children include:
Planning What to Plant
Ask your children what they would like to plant.
Getting their opinion on what to grow will give them a voice. You can talk about when certain types of plants grow best. If they mention planting something that won’t grow well in your area, you can use this opportunity to talk about planting zones or native plants. For younger children, you may want to give them options and allow them to select from those choices.
Expose kids to new fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
Make it a goal to include at least one new fruit, vegetable, or herbs for your child to grow and taste. Exposure to new produce and herbs is a healthy practice. By engaging your little in choosing the new flavor and having them take care of its growth, they will be more excited to try the new food.
Preparing the Earth
Choosing a Location
Talk to your littles about where you intend to plant. Explain that plants need different amounts of light and that the place you grow your seeds is important for making sure they get the right amount. You can even turn it into a game. Designate areas of the ground or different pots as “full sun,” “partial sun,” and “shade.” You can use different colored items like hula hoops to indicate those areas if you have littles who aren’t reading yet. Then, read the back of the package to determine how much sun a type of plant needs. Tell you child how much sun the plant needs and let them place the package in the right area or pot. They’re helping you sort the plants by the amount of sun they need
Preparing the Ground/Pots
Allow your littles to use shovels, rakes, hoes, and tillers (as age-appropriate) to prepare the area or pots for planting. The practice of shoveling, spreading, and leveling the dirt and compost gives the children the opportunity to practice large motor skills and hand-eye coordination, while giving them some physical activity. Our girls just LOVE playing in the dirt.
Above: Lovebug (3) & Cuteness Everbean (4) are gathering dirt from our generous neighbor that will be used to create raised beds.
Below: Mom & Lovebug are spreading dirt and compost manure through the raised bed area of our garden.
Above: Cuteness Everbean (4, left), Mom, and Lovebug (3, right) are kneeling on cardboard over unplanted areas as they dig holes and add seeds from their seed packets.
Planting the Garden
Under supervision, your children can dig holes to plant your seeds. Pay attention to the appropriate depth and distance you should have between plants.
Instruct your child how many seeds to place in each hole. Let them count or count with them (as age appropriate) as they place the seeds.
The girls enjoy using their garden gloves to push the dirt back over the seeds and gently pat it into place. There is something about the gloves that makes them feel like real gardeners.
Labeling is important so you don’t forget what you planted and where! There are many of materials that can be used to create upcycled labels and children can help you in age-appropriate ways. Let your little ones paint or color your material. Let older children write the labels or pick out letters.
Tending the Garden
Water the plants.
Allow your little to help with watering. If they are old enough, let them use the hose. If not, you can allow them to use a small watering can to water plants.
Pruning the garden.
Your garden area or pots can only accommodate a certain number of plants in the space. To avoid having your plants fight each other for survival, you may need to prune them down to the right number of plants per square foot. Your child can help you count the sprouts in a given square or even pull out the overabundance.
Gardens need plenty of attention. Having your child point out when your plants are growing out of control, when weeds are appearing, or when bugs and pests are invading the garden can be a great way for them to care for the garden. They don’t have to address all the problems, but making you aware can be a big help! They will also LOVE spying the first sprouts, first blooms, and first ripe produce!
Tending the garden is a great opportunity to empower your little through responsibilities. Give your little their very own Eco Chore chart and include tasks related to the garden. Find age-appropriate Eco Chore Charts with and without suggested chores in our store.
Harvesting & Beyond
Your children will love collecting the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor. Teach them to identify ripe produce and how to properly pick plants that can be harvested safely.
Teach your children about properly cleaning and drying the produce before eating.
Show your little how you will store each item you pick before it’s eaten. Will any be prepared for long-term storage through a canning process or something similar? If so, can you allow your little to help with this project, too?
Teach your little how to prep and cook with the items you’ve harvested. When possible, let your little have input into what recipe they’d like to make. For young ones, you can offer choices. For example, ask your little “Would you like to make blueberry muffins or a blueberry pie with the blueberries we picked?”
Lovebug digging the dirt with her shovel in bare feet.
Cuteness Everbean digging with her small garden shovel, filling her bucket– literally and figuratively!
Gardening with kids isn’t the easiest and cleanest eco-adventure we’ve ever experienced, but it is extremely rewarding. I love seeing the way they connect with nature. My youngest seems to feel grounded and both children appear happier when they are out in the dirt. I cannot wait until they have the chance to harvest the produce we’ve planted. I know they are looking forward to experiencing some homegrown goodness!
Barrable, A. (2019). Refocusing environmental education in the early years: A brief introduction to a pedagogy for connection. Education sciences, 9(1), 61.
Barrera-Hernández, L. F., Sotelo-Castillo, M. A., Echeverría-Castro, S. B., & Tapia-Fonllem, C. O. (2020). Connectedness to nature: its impact on sustainable behaviors and happiness in children. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 276.
Dyment, J. E., & Bell, A. C. (2008). Grounds for movement: green school grounds as sites for promoting physical activity. Health Education Research, 23(6), 952-962.
Langellotto, G. A., & Gupta, A. (2012). Gardening increases vegetable consumption in school-aged children: A meta-analytical synthesis. HortTechnology, 22(4), 430-445.
Libman, K. (2007). Growing youth growing food: How vegetable gardening influences young people’s food consciousness and eating habits. Applied Environmental Education and Communication, 6(1), 87-95.
Yost, B., & Chawla, L. (2009). Benefits of gardening for children. Fact Sheet, 3.