There is a childlike glee and wonder that wells up in my heart every time a seed I have planted sprouts and grows. It’s nothing short of miraculous, each and every sprout. Moments like these are always so much richer when shared, especially with children who usually show their delight more readily than grown-ups. Keeping those little hands from “weeding” little veggie sprouts is the trick. There is a way though, to incorporate children of all ages into the garden.
If nurturing the love of gardening in children’s hearts is a priority, the amount of mandatory time in the garden (where they don’t have a choice but to garden) should be at a minimum. Thankfully, we don’t need to rely on it for our survival so forcing young ones to help isn’t necessary. Capitalizing on their interest when it’s piqued is when the sweetest memories are made and bonds grow deeper. Here are some ideas to enfold the little ones (and not-so-little ones) into tending the garden:
Tasks for the Wee Ones (ages 18 months and up)
Growing cherry tomatoes, even if only for little people to pick from and enjoy during garden time, is well worth a space in the plot. Those little gems have proven very helpful for a number of reasons: they keep little hands engaged so us grown-ups can tend to our work. Little ones begin to understand where food comes from. Their first bite of a cherry, deep-red tomato plucked from the vine is all it takes. Eyes widen and yummy noises ensue. They hone their senses and develop discernment for ripe fruit. After a summer of taste-testing tomatoes in various stages of ripeness (from very green to overripe), I watch our 20-month-old search for the perfect tomatoes; not too green or too soft, just perfect little orbs of ruby, juicy, goodness.
Sand toys are great tools for little ones. Gathering little piles of rocks, wood bark, soil, and leaves for them to shovel up and dump into pails can be all it takes to engage them for longer than you might think possible.
I put my children on acorn duty this time of year. Everyone gets baskets to fill with acorns before they can take deep root into the garden. Then they can do whatever they please with them (acorn crafts, filling a bowl of them for autumn decoration in their room, or setting them out for wildlife to eat are some things to do, to name a few).
Tasks for Children Four Years Old and Up
Harvesting is always fun! Before setting them loose on your garden beds, show them what to look for. Explain what color, size, and texture a ripe green bean is. Pick a root vegetable and show how tall the leaves should be before picking it. Potato harvesting is our favorite. It’s like digging for buried treasure and most children love to eat them afterwards and take great pride in their harvest.
Weeding isn’t always a favorite, but if you purchase special, kid-sized garden gloves and save them only for use in the garden, it can make weeding more special. You might want to assign a specific weed to each child so they don’t accidentally bring up a plant. Pick one first, show them what it looks like, and give them a bucket to put as many of their assigned weed as they can find.
Planting seeds and starts can be done with helpers, as well. For the younger ones, make the hole for the seeds or seedlings first and have the children drop them in the hole. Be sure to show them when the sprouts pop up so they can take ownership in their work; that’s the best part!
Giving children an opportunity to experience the wonder of gardening is a priceless gift and learning tool. They get to observe the process it takes to bring supper to the table. It helps picky eaters find interest in trying vegetables that they helped grow. Family time in the garden means everyone is together without any distractions. Phones are set down. There is no TV or computer screen to look at. The focus becomes not only the garden, but conversation with one another. Whether you have a large garden plot or a few pots to grow out of, this experience is possible for children no matter where they live.