One of the things I love about my kids is how excited they get to try out new things. I also like to inspire them to be self-sufficient and make healthy choices in life. One of the best examples of those practices is gardening. It’s something I did with my parents, and it’s something we involve our kids in each year. They get really excited when it comes time to plant, and especially when it's time to pick.
No matter how young or old your kids are, they can participate in the garden. I love gardening with my kids - it's a great time for conversation. From planning to eating and everything in-between, here are six ways you can get your kids involved right now.
- Enlist your little artists to create garden markers
My girls love a good craft project, and their faces lit up when I asked if they would help me create some garden markers. These can be craft sticks, cheap spoons from the bargain bin at the store, or painted rocks. The great thing about this is that they can participate, no matter their ages or skillsets.
For the painted rock garden markers, all you need are rocks and either paint pens or inexpensive acrylic paints and paint brushes. Look around your yard or take a walk and find some smooth rocks that are small enough to fit in the garden but big enough to be descriptive. How your kids go about it is up to them. Not reading and writing yet? Paint a picture of a tomato, or just paint the whole rock red so it's the same color. Older kids who are writing can paint the crop name on the rock. Give them a little direction and tell them what crops you’re planting, and let them decide how to approach it.
- Let them pick a plant or two
When I was checking out the garden catalog this year, I asked each of my girls to pick a vegetable that they wanted to grow. It could be something they’re familiar with, maybe a known favorite, or something they want to try for the first time. We’re growing some purple beans for my purple-loving child, and my other daughter picked which cucumbers we plant this year. Both are excited to watch the sprouts, transplant them outside and see how they grow!
- Help with garden prep
Kids can help pull weeds, remove old plants to make room for the new ones, or help with figuring out what should be planted where. When my girls were smaller, they used to get their little purple wheelbarrow out, grab their gardening gloves, and ASK US IF THEY COULD HELP WEEDING. Honest – they asked to weed! Take advantage of this as long as it lasts. I don’t know how much time I’ve got left with this one. The one thing I do myself is spread the compost. While I rarely get one that includes manure, I still prefer to do this step without little hands.
- Many hands make planting go quickly
Last weekend while one of the girls was playing at a friend’s house, I recruited the other and we planted some of our crops. It was some wonderful one-on-one time with her that I will remember always. She even surprised me with some of her knowledge of why earthworms are helpful in the garden! She was smiling pretty much the whole time, enjoying talking with me without any competition for my attention. Once things start sprouting, kids are super proud to see seedlings that THEY planted, and they’re even more excited when the fruit starts appearing.
- Grab the watering can!
My raised beds are just steps from our back patio, and the watering can is close by. Guide them as to how much water the plants need and how often, and watch as they take on this easy task. Just keep an eye on that watering can afterward, because if your kids are like mine, you’ll find them watering anything and everything, and you may have to go hunting to find it! Depending on your setup, you might instead want to give some instruction on proper hose use or pressure, or how the drip irrigation works.
- Pick those crops!
My mother still smiles when she says that only about a third of the peas and cherry tomatoes she used to plant would make it inside the house. Apparently I would roam the garden and snack. But what a healthy snack! Maybe Mom once wished that I would have kids just like me, because last summer, despite having multiple plants, I don’t think I got more than a handful of peas from our garden. I walked outside one day and caught those two red handed! I ended up just telling them they could eat whatever they wanted from certain plants, while leaving the others for the family.
No matter the crop though, my kids love to help pick the ripe fruits and veggies and bring them in for a fresh snack or side dish at dinner. They also TRY everything, and give it a full three bites before giving anything the veto. Remember also that tastes change, and something they’re not crazy about today might be delicious in a few weeks, with a different recipe.
I hope I’ve given you some inspiration on how to get your kids involved in gardening with you! This really does give them a respect for healthy food and what it takes to grow the food we eat. Not to mention it’s a great opportunity to spend some quality time with those kids while they’re still young.