Engaging Kids in the Garden

Over the past few months I have shared with you the health benefits of gardening, how gardening can be sustainable, and 7 reasons why kids should garden. Today’s blog is going to address tips for engaging kids (and their families) in the garden.

After some research on this topic I grouped the tips I found into common themes and added one more from my own experience growing up.

1.) Get your kids involved in the gardening process

Planning

Whether growing, harvesting, or cooking engage your children or those you look after in the WHOLE process. You can start slowly by incorporating one of two into daily activities before putting them all together.

a.) Planning: This part of the process of gardening includes thinking about what you are going to grow in the garden, the geographic area in which plants are most likely to thrive, how the garden is going to look, and where you are going to begin.

Tips: Take children and teens to a local plant nursery and have them choose which plants, decorative rocks, vegetables, fruits, or herbs they would like to have in the garden. If you already have a garden of your own offer to help your teen or child make a plot for themselves.

If they wish to grow vegetables, fruits, or herbs make sure you give younger kids a list of plants to choose from that you know grows where you live. For example, growing an orange tree in Massachusetts probably will not do as well as growing strawberries. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a good place to begin when thinking about what plant types grow where. http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/

b.) Planting: Once the type of plant is decided upon the next step is too plant and take care of them.

Tips: Children can help out by watering plants, planting seeds in the ground, or small shrubs. Watching plants grow is a tedious process, but well worth the effort when you finally see green shoots poking from the ground.

c.) Harvesting: For me the best part of any growing season is when you get to eat what you plant yourself. Who doesn’t love eating berries straight from the bush? Plus, It’s hard to describe the pride you feel when what you planted and tended for so long produces.

Tip: Get kids involved at this step of the process by having them pick the berries, tomatoes, or whatever it is you are growing from the garden. Teach younger kids by example how to harvest potatoes, squashes, cucumbers, or berries properly so as not to damage the plant.

d.) Cooking: Once your garden starts producing what better way to enjoy the yields of the earth by preparing what you cook?

Tips: Get kids involved by having them rinse the produce, choose the recipe, and help in the kitchen. Refer back to later blog posts of mine for some tips on age appropriate tasks in the kitchen and All Hands on Deck. Best of all, eat a meal together!

 

2.) Set aside a day for Family Gardening Day

Growing up my parents gave my brother and I small, age appropriate tasks to complete around the house every weekend. These tasks ranged from raking, planting, watering, weeding, painting, and trimming from fall to spring. When we were older we began to mow the lawn.

Although, these tasks can be boring the tasks you give to your kids don’t have to be. Gardening should be fun. So make it of interesting. Get creative. For example, out of all the jobs I did growing up my favorite was visiting the plant nursery at Home Depot’s.

Setting aside a day in the week to spend as a family can teach responsibility, hard work, and dedication to a project while promoting community.

3.) Assign age appropriate tasks

Give kids the right tasks will determine their interest and engagement level. If it is something beyond them younger children will grow bored as older ones might become bored from repetitive, routine tasks.

Examples of age appropriate tasks are having 5 or 6 year olds pick out the color or type of plant to grow, plant, or water seeds. Older children around 9 or 10 years old can begin weeding, arranging plants, understanding climate conditions for various plants, or planting larger shrubs. Teenagers can do all the previous tasks as well as things like mow the lawn or preparing family meals. For further more detailed examples try this link.

4.) Make it Fun!

Lastly, make it exciting! If the work in the garden is portrayed as a chore it won’t engage kids. Below are a few examples of how to make gardening fun for the whole family.

a.) Turning work into a game: Whose leaf pile is the largest? Let’s see who can collect the most weeds in an hour?

b.) Turn seasonal activities into an opportunity to learn about food: Carve pumpkins and use the squash for soup, salads, or their seeds.  Planting sunflowers to harvest and cook the seeds. Picking apples to make apple cider, make baked apples, or apple pie.

c.) Provide a reason for garden activities that kids would relate to or that provides favorable outcomes: What are their favorite meals? Explain that some of the produce can be grown themselves and show them. An example of this tip is let’s go out and plant flowers for mother’s day instead of lets plant these flowers.

d.) Do art projects in the garden. Have kids place their hand prints on the path of the garden or use old tiles to create mosaic masterpieces into the garden walkways. Collect pine cones to decorate for winter ornaments or collect leaves for art projects. Another fun garden activity is choosing ornaments or statues for the garden.

Here’s to hoping these ideas will stimulate ideas of your own for you and yours. Happy gardening! At the end of the month another blog will offer a recipe for summer seasonal eating and next month I will address the top 10 plants/herbs that kids can plant.

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