Friday, May 8, 2009

Gardening with Kids: An Easy Guide

Gardening with Kids: An Easy Guide by Julia Kelly (Midwest Mom)

Gardening with your children is an easy thing to do. At our house, we involve our kids in as many aspects of tending our family garden as we can. Gardening together provides us with high-quality time together outdoors and away from the television (a good thing in my book!) It gives me the opportunity to teach them about plant ecology and bugs and the environment. And honestly, my kids are great helpers.

Spring Planting

Spring in the Midwest is for planting. It is the most work-intensive time in the garden, and the dirtiest. But the work you and your kids put in now to plant the garden right will make the late-Spring and Summer a lot more carefree.

If you are planting seeds, keep your children’s needs in mind. Larger seeds are easy for small hands to manipulate. Seeds like beans and peas can be soaked ahead of time in a glass filled with moist paper toweling. Once softened, they will germinate more quickly. Or, you can leave them in the glass and watch them sprout. What a great way to teach your children how a seed works its magic.

Smaller seeds are great for scattering and gently raking into the soil. Lettuce seeds or flowers like Cosmos are easily planted this way. Both make a big impact once they germinate, too.
If you have a flower garden, try letting your children plant sunflowers. Again, the larger seeds are easy for little ones to handle, and they will be amazed at how tall they grow. Your family can sign up with children across the country to participate in the Great Sunflower Project. The Great Sunflower Project encourages families to grow sunflowers at home to help chart the health of the bee population. Our family is participating. Yours can, too.

If you prefer to plant seedlings from your local garden center, focus on varieties that grow well in your area. Let your children help choose what colors of flowers to plant. Talk about what kind of vegetables your family likes to eat or would like to try. Make a list and play “veggie hide-and-seek”, letting your children search the garden tags for the right plants.

Know the dimensions of your garden space and pay attention to the space, light, soil and watering needs of the plants you purchase. If your child is a reader, have him read the planting instructions and measure the size of the hole with a ruler. Be sure to dig an adequately large hole for each plant. Fill the hole with water, and once it has drained completely, place the seedling inside, backfilling to make the base of the plant even with the surrounding soil level. Press the earth gently and water again.

Water Games

Kids love to help with the watering. When the weather gets hot, they can’t get enough of it. But the key to successful gardening is to water correctly. So, my first rule of watering may be: make it fun. But my next rule is: do it right.

Spring rains can sometimes be enough to get the garden going. But when the weather is dry, it is a good idea to keep the garden evenly moist until seedlings emerge. I let my children take turns with the hose. There are three of them, so once everyone has had a turn, our garden is well-watered. Using a hose with a spray-selector works well; I set the nozzle to ‘shower’ or the setting that most closely resembles raindrops, so seeds and seedlings won’t be dislodged or broken.

Once the weather gets warmer, our watering turns to water-play. I like to fill 5-gallon buckets and arm my crew with plastic watering cans. They water each plant individually and watch as the ground eagerly soaks up the water. From time to time, they wind up watering themselves as much as the plants. But it is cooling play that is fun for us all.

We like to water in the early evening, to give our plants a chance to soak in the moisture when the night turns cool. But watering in the morning works just as well. The key is to be consistent.

Measuring Progress

A great way to help your children maintain their enthusiasm for the family garden is to regularly measure its progress.

We keep a calendar of our planting dates and count the days until we can expect to harvest. Other families may enjoy keeping a garden journal with measurements, drawings, and photos. What a great project for homeschoolers!

We stop and check our garden a few times a week and mark the way the plants are changing. We encourage the children to find the creatures that live in the garden, from butterflies to grasshoppers to bees (and even, unfortunately for last year’s crop of peas, the occasional bunny. This year we have a better fence.) At the end of the season, the flowers and produce are the best reward we could ask for.

Our home garden is a place for us to teach our kids about life, about caring for something other than themselves, about the value of work and enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. It is a natural classroom that brings our family closer together.
I hope you will try planting a garden with your own children, even if you just begin with a plant or two. You just might find, as we have, that you love it.

- Midwest Mom

Julia Kelly (aka Midwest Mom) lives in Central Illinois and is the mother of three, wife of one. As the chief cook and bottle-washer for her brood, she has a thing or two to say about living life with a healthy sense of perspective and a good sense of humor. You can read more of her writing on her blog, Midwest Moms.


Nurit "1 family. friendly. food." said...

Great ideas. I love gardening with my kids. This year, finally, my son, who is an indoors person, is willing to come out and help. It's so much fun. I also like to ask him to go pick something for me when I'm cooking.

Sandra Foyt said...

The Sunflower Project sounds like a lot of fun for very little effort. We always plant sunflowers. There are so many neat varieties, and we enjoy trying them all. There are also lots of great sunflower planting projects - making a maze or hideaway spot. So many projects, so little time!

Janine (@twincident) said...

I'm definitely NOT a gardener but took the girls with me to the nursery and we bought lettuce and they LOVE watching it grow! Tomato plants are next!

Heather said...

We finally got some of our plants out into the garden today. We haven't started our cucumbers yet or our squash but I think we'll start those this weekend. My kids love helping with the planting!

Mike said...

HI! Love the post! Kids can learn SO MUCH from gardening. Even "just the food" part is valuable, but it can mean so much more. A feeling of connection to the EARTH is HUGE!

Erika sent us a great story about teaching her children to value LEARNING through gardening. Great video, check it out here:

Hope you like it! There are tons more incredible stories on there as well. The site is sponsored by Mutual of Omaha and features "aha moments" big and small but all inspirational in their own way!


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Personally, I love spending time with my daughter outside, had a great time together growing plants.