Have fun in the garden with the children! I have four great children whom I homeschool. (More on homeschooling here.) We are together a lot as you can imagine. If I'm in the garden, I usually have some company. I have been gardening with children for as long as I can remember.
When I first began gardening with children I did all the planning, selecting, grouping and designing. The kids were my "helpers." This system did not result in children excited about working in the garden. They were just helping me. This all changed the day I gave them ownership.
The turning point came the year we put in our 21 raised garden beds. I told each of my children to pick one. They now owned their own bed. They could plant anything they wanted! They could plant everything they wanted! They got to decide! They got to plan! They had their own garden. Happy children!
Here are my top seven tips for getting your children working in the garden and loving it!
SECRET #1 Space
Each of my children have a designated garden bed that is their own.
It is 4 by 8 feet and it's all theirs. I have found this to be the No. 1 contributor to getting my children excited about the garden. Choosing what to plant and where to plant it are among the most rewarding parts of gardening. I want my children to experience this and have fun with their own space.
SECRET #2 Give them their own gardening supplies
Every spring I bring home "gardening packages" for each of my children. These packages usually include new gloves, a shovel, a cultivator and some seed packets. It doesn't need to be expensive, most gardening supplies can be found at dollar stores.
There's nothing like sliding on a brand new pair of gardening gloves. Let your children kick off the gardening season with some new dirt-friendly toys.
SECRET #3 Take them shopping
I take my children to the nursery and let them pick out some plants and seed packets. They may need a little guidance choosing what will grow well. Help them choose varieties that can succeed in your area.
I have one daughter who is growing radishes, flowers and catnip. That's it. She wants radishes. She wants wildflowers. She grows catnip for the cats. It's her garden. Go for it!
I have a son who grows absolutely everything he can get his hands on. If anyone has leftover seeds – he plants them. If I have seeds from 3 years ago – he plants them. His garden is always a jungle by July. I think it's great.
SECRET # 4 Keep it fun
First, be sure to head out to the garden during a pleasant time of day. Here that usually means morning after breakfast. The temperature is wonderful, the day is fresh, the children aren't tired. There's nothing fun about working in the sun in the middle of the day when it's scorching out.
Most children love sand boxes. Out here, that's pretty much what our garden is. Twenty-one sandboxes filled with dirt! If you happen to have a child who doesn't want to dig in the dirt, they may enjoy painting row markers and garden signs.
Another way to add to the fun factor is to bring the iPod dock to the garden. There are few things more magnetic than loud music when it comes to teenagers (at least my teenagers). Weeding 21 garden beds can feel like a party with some good music, laughter and Pepsi Throwbacks!
SECRET #5 Keep the work-load realistic (and fair)
Even with the children taking ownership of their own gardens, there are still 17 other garden beds that need weeding around our place.
What seems to work best for our family is assigning everyone a few beds. Older children get more beds to weed. Younger children only weed a couple of beds. When the beds (assigned to you) are weed-free you are done. Yea!
SECRET #6 Pay attention to their attention spans
I try to do a good job encouraging the children and seeing that the work is fun. I want them to experience the joy of planting seeds, watching them emerge from the ground and harvesting the food they grew. I don't want the garden to be something they loathe, or dread.
To keep gardening fun, I try to make the work light. When they begin to lose interest, I send them off to explore, get wet, or do something else. I can finish up, after all, there's nothing else I'd rather be doing.
SECRET #7 Give them food (or drinks)
While we are in the garden we all drink our weight in fresh cool water. When the work is done it's time for something a little more spunky!
We usually end our days gardening with a fun beverage. Who doesn't love a refreshing drink after working in the sunshine? I have 100-percent juice boxes. I have Pepsi Throwbacks (Pepsi made with real cane sugar).
I try to keep a stash of festive drinks in the garage refrigerator (or in the barn refrigerator) just for rewards after working.
When children help in the garden they are doing more than just "helping." They are learning where food comes from. They are feeding the family. They are doing science. They get to be a blessing.
Get out in the garden with your children and have some fun!