Gardening with Kids

Right about now many people are planting flowers or a vegetable garden in their yard, so I thought it would be timely to get some tips on getting your kids involved with these projects. When we planted our flowers this spring the kids helped put in the dirt and pat it down. Now they help me water the flowers and pick off the dead leaves/entire flower. I was able to talk to some experts about how to encourage your kiddos of all ages to help out. 

Librarian Nancy Schimmel suggested starting with a book on the subject. Here’s a list, and I’m sure your local children’s librarian could suggest more:

GARDENING BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

FICTION
Fleischman, Paul. Seed Folks, illus. Judy Pederson. HarperCollins, 1997.
A young Vietnamese girl plants some beans in a vacant lot. Gradually others of different ages and nationalities follow her lead and begin to know each other in the process of creating a community garden. Gr. 3-6

Bauer, Joan. Squashed. Delacorte Press, 1992.
A sixteen-year-old pursues her goal–growing the biggest pumpkin in Iowa–with the help of a new-found friend. 5th-up

PICTURE BOOKS

Bjork, Christina. Linnea in Monet’s Garden, illus. Lena Anderson. Linnea’s windowsill garden / by Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson ; translated by Joan Sandin.

Bond, Ruskin. Cherry Tree, illus. Allan Eitzen. Caroline House, 1991.
In the Himalayan foothills, not many fruit trees grow. A little girl plants a cherry pit and cares for the tree as they both grow. 1st-3rd.

Bunting, Eve. Sunflower House, illus. Kathryn Hewitt. Harcourt, 1996.
A young boy creates a summer playhouse by planting sunflowers. ps-3.

Cooney, Barbara. Miss Rumphius. Viking, 1982.
Great-aunt Alice was once a little girl who wanted to travel the world and then live by the sea, as her grandfather had. But there was one more thing she had to do. “What is that?” Alice asked her grandfather. “You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” he told her. 1st-4th.

de Paola, Tomie, reteller. The Legend of Bluebonnet. Putnams’s, 1983.
The Great Spirits tells the Comanche People to sacrifice their most precious possession to end a drought that had killed many, including the parents of one little girl. When the little girl sacrifices a doll made for her by her mother, the Spirits cover the hillsides with bluebonnets and end the drought. Texas legend. 1st-4th.

Ikeda, Daisaku. The Cherry Tree, illus. Brian Wildsmith. English version by Geraldine McCaughrean. Knopf, 1991.
The old cherry tree hasn’t bloomed all through the war. Afterwards, with the help of an old man and two children, it does. 1st-4th.

Morgan, Pierr. The Turnip: An Old Russian Folktale. Philomel, 1990.
The turnip is so enormous that it takes the family and the animals to pull it up. preschool-1st

Steptoe, John. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. Lothrop, 1987.
A snake is well treated by a young African woman who knows he is good for her garden. He turns out to be a handsome prince. 1st-4th.

Stevens, Janet. Tops and bottoms, adapted and illus. by Janet Stevens. Harcourt Brace, c1995.
In this Caldecott Honor Book, Rabbit tricks Bear out of the harvest.

Stewart, Dianne. Gift of the Sun: A tale from South Africa, illus. Jude Daly. Farrar, Straus, 1996.
A farmer sells the cow he is tired of milking, but he gets tired of each thing he buys until he brings home sunflower seeds, plants them, and finds his true vocation. k-4

Stewart, Sarah. The Gardener; pictures by David Small. Farrar Straus Giroux, 1997.
A series of letters relates what happens when, after her father loses his job, Lydia Grace goes to live with her Uncle Jim in the city but takes her love for gardening with her.

Williams, Vera B. Cherries and Cherry Pits. Greenwillow, 1986.
An African American girl tells stories about the pictures she draws: cherries, cherry pits, and more and more cherry trees. k-3rd.

Another book that I would personally recommend that was not on Nancy’s list is A Tree for Emmy by Mary Ann Rodman.

Candi of Nannies4Hire.com offered these educational tips for growing a vegetable garden:

Gardening with kids can be a fun, educational opportunity. Through vegetable gardening, your kids can learn about our environment, soil science and minerals, foods, nutrition, and chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, etc.). Additionally, gardening is just fun: after all, kids get to play in the mud! Further, your kids can enjoy the “fruits” of their labor.

First, you will select the space for your vegetable garden and what vegetables you would like to grow. The size of the space available to you will, to some degree, affect what vegetables you will grow. For example, if you want to grow corn, you will need a larger garden (unless you want to grow only a very small amount of corn). Your soil will also affect what vegetables you will grow. Sandy soil is good for growing melons. Dark brown soil is good for growing beans, tomatoes, and carrots. (TIP: if you are new to gardening, choose vegetable plants that are hearty. For example, chives are hard-to-kill plants that can survive and thrive with little tending from humans. Early successes with hearty plants give kids a sense of success and encouragement in their gardening skills.)

Next, you will need to prepare your soil for planting. Preparing your soil includes tilling the soil, weeding it, mixing in organic matter, and moistening the soil. (TiP: enjoy the opportunity to play in soil. This is one of the most fun parts of gardening for kids.)

Then, you will be ready to plant your seeds or starter plants. Make sure to follow the instructions provided with the plant or seed. (TIP: have a ruler or tape measure handy. Let your kids measure distance between plantings and praise them generously for their precision.)

Some plants require daily watering. All plants should be weeded at least weekly. As your vegetables develop and ripen, you will need to remove ripe vegetables promptly. Vegetables that rot on or near the plant can discourage further vegetable production. (TIP: as you remove your first ripened vegetables, wash and eat them promptly. Let your kids experience the wonderful tastes that they have created with their own hands. Vegetables that ripen thereafter can be prepared for meals or canned: these experiences provide further fun, learning opportunities for your kids.)

Some vegetables can have subsequent plantings. For example, you can plant carrots and radishes every two to three weeks.

When your growing season is done, remove any unripened fruit (some may still ripen inside your windowsill). Some vegetable plants will need to be removed; some others will need to be trimmed back to near soil level. The information that came with your plants or seeds will tell you what to do. (TIP: here again, your kids will have the opportunity to play in soil. Make an afternoon of it and have a ball.)

Then, you can start planning your garden for next summer. Some vegetable plants are perennials (i.e., they come back year after year with no need to replant them). For example, chives are perennials. Some vegetable plants are annuals (i.e., they die out at the end of the growing season and will need to be replanted each spring or summer). For example, carrots are annuals. When planting annuals, plan for plant rotation. Each plant takes specific nutrients from the soil; rotation prevents a decrease in soil fertility. (TIP: include your kids in planning so that they can feel more invested in the garden).

By following these steps, your kids can enjoy the fun, educational opportunity that is vegetable gardening. They will learn about our environment, soil science and minerals, foods, nutrition, and chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, etc.); play in the soil; and enjoy the “fruits” of their labor.

Darla Arni, author of Full Plate No Fork offers these tips on how she got her daughter to garden with her:

Gardening can be a great ‘together’ activity for parent and child. Whether your garden consists of simple pots or half an acre doesn’t matter, the experience of growing something together is the same. When I was growing up the garden was an important part of our summer life. We raised food to eat and flowers to enjoy. My brother and I often made a game out of the planting to make the chore go faster. As I look back, the time my family shared in the garden provided some of the best memories of childhood.

So what is the best way to get your child into growing? Here are some tips to ensure a bountiful success from your gardening adventure.

1. Decide together what plants you want to plant. Is there a plant you’ve seen growing in a neighbor’s yard that you’ve always admired? Browse through colorful seed catalogs so children can become familiar with plants and the many choices available. Local nurseries would be glad to answer your questions about proper soil, light, how often to water, etc. In fact, maybe a trip to a nursery would be a good field trip to introduce them to the many varieties of plants available.

2. Let children begin early by doing simple tasks. A two-year-old might not be able to plant tomato plants, but they can put stones in the bottom of pots for drainage or help fill empty pots with soil. Two-year-olds are also very good at emptying pots when you least expect it! Be sure the tasks you give them are age appropriate.

3. Watering the garden can be a fun activity for all ages. Be sure to teach the proper way so plants don’t drown. They can also learn what time of day is best for watering plants and how you can tell when a plant needs watering or not.

4. There are lots of tasks associated with gardening that are perfect for kids. My mother used to challenge us to find as many worms on the tomato plants as we could and collect them in a jar. We thought it was fun and the tomatoes were saved! Children will enjoy making row markers to help remember what’s planted where, making a scarecrow, hunting for bugs or collecting vegetables in a basket while you pick.

5. Gardens don’t have to be edible. Planting and watching flowers grow can be just as rewarding. Zinnias, daisies, cosmos, and snapdragons are easy to grow and produce well. Remember, if children plant them they should also be allowed to pick them when they are in bloom.

6. Be sure little ones understand they shouldn’t taste seeds as you plant. Many seeds are chemically treated and could be harmful. Children need to learn from the start that they only eat from plants that are grown in the garden.

7. Be patient. When gardening with a child, remember that a child’s attention span is shorter than adults. While you are busily pulling weeds, they might be fascinated with a strange orange bug that just wandered into view! Take time to enjoy the experience with the child and put off pushing to get all the chores done at backbreaking speed. Don’t forget, the most important item you’re growing is a strong relationship with your child.

Finally, horticulturist Mike Sikes leaves us with these tips:

* Kids love to play in the dirt. Have them be not only by your side but hands on in the planting process. Let them dig holes for plants, place the plants in the ground and gently bury the roots.

* Let kids be hands on in selecting herbs from the garden center to plant. Let them rub and sniff the herbs, each with their own aromas and textures. When the herbs are at their prime, have the kids help clip from the herbs, bring them in and show them how the herbs enhance food flavors in the kitchen.

* As the garden grows, remember that kids also love playing in the water. Be sure to let them water the plants in your garden, being sure to teach them what “too much” or “too little” water is.

* Before entertaining or a special day, have the kids be hands on in creating a bouquet from the garden. With the help of a parent, any child can create a pretty and very inexpensive bouquet perfect for gift giving and/or to decorate the home. Simply fill a vase, drinking glass, bowl or other suitable substitute with water. Then clip off a few fresh blooms from the garden to make a lovely arrangement that has that unique, personal touch. Instruct the kids to choose from reblooming plants such as the Mini Penny Hydrangea or Heaven Scent Gardenia since clipping from these plants does not mean the end of the beautiful blooms. With rebloomers, new blossoms will appear in 6-7 weeks.

How many of you have a family garden? What do you have planted there? What tips do you have for getting your kids to help?

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for the great post. We are here to help with your needs, whether it be a babysitter, nanny, housekeeper, tutor, pet sitter, elderly companion or other misc. care at Nannies4hire.com and Care4hire.com.

  2. Barbara Manatee

    We have a very large garden of raised beds. More than a dozen large beds are in our back yard. My kids love to help daddy plant the seeds when he starts them indoors and of course, love to help water. They even started to help pick some veggies last summer! They'll even eat green beans straight from the garden (I don't even do that! ha!)

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