|Gardening with Children|
Children are natural gardeners.
| They're curious, like to learn by doing, and love to play in the dirt.
Working in a garden, a child can experience the satisfaction that comes from caring for something over time, while observing the cycle of life firsthand.
Gardening gives children a chance to learn an important life skill, one that is overlooked in standard school curriculums. Gardening is also a great way to teach environmental awareness by exploring the workings of nature.
what to plant - top 10 crops for children
Our children were involved with gardening from an early age, and it was gratifying to watch their interest and self-esteem grow as their gardening efforts yielded good results. Although there are many crops suitable for the young gardener, here are our "top 10", which are relatively easy to grow, have short growing seasons and are fun to harvest.
Our children deserve the best gardening tools. Here's a beautiful, sturdy wheelbarrow you can build yourself. This project is also a great parent/child activity. Click here for the plans.
These flowers are easy to grow and yield results quickly, which encourages the young gardener. Nasturtiums bloom about 50 days after the seeds are planted, with orange, yellow and red flowers. They prefer sunny, dry locations and do well in poor soil. Choose the shorter varieties for garden beds. Nasturtiums are also pest resistant, which ensures a successful planting. The flowers are also edible, and can be used to add colour to a fresh garden salad.
Fast, easy, high yield and, because they do not grow tall, they are easy for kids to harvest. Bush beans germinate in 4-8 days, and mature in 40-65 days. It's best to plant a small patch, then another in a few weeks. This will extend the harvest. When choosing seeds, select the "low bush" varieties because these will be easier for children to harvest. Plant closely spaced, about 4" apart. Grow in direct sun; water the soil but try to keep the leaves dry. Bush beans don't need poles or trellises to grow.
Seeds can be sown directly into soil; carrots prefer cooler temperatures. They can be slow to germinate, so be patient. Carrots will mature in about 60 days.The soil should be free of rocks and easy for the carrot to grow 'down'. Keep well-watered and thin to every 3" because crowding will produce foliage but no root. Small varieties are recommended for children, as they're easier to grow and more fun to eat.
A 'never-fail' crop. You can plant red or white varieties; red will mature faster. Children seem to favor the red variety. Cut seed potatoes into chunks with at least 2 'eyes' per. Plant in furrows, about 12-15" apart, with eyes pointing upward. Mound soil up around plant as it grows; harvest when plant collapses.
A 'must' for a child's garden, if you have the room. Plant seeds in a small hill; poke three holes in the hill and put one seed in each hole. Seeds will sprout in about 1 week; after a few days, vine leaves begin to form and creep along the ground. Once there are 3 pumpkins on the vine, pick off any new blossoms. Pumpkins take 80 - 120 days to harvest: it's ready when it feels hard on the outside and sounds hollow when tapped. Let an adult supervise the cutting, using shears. Seeds can be dried to eat, or save for future planting. The meat can be used for pies, and the pumpkin for carving.
other crops our children have tried, but had mixed results:
corn - a heavy feeder, corn needs lots of compost or fertilizer, and requires a lot of growing space in relation to the size of the harvest. If the plants aren't "knee high by the 4th of July", the ears will be small. In our garden, either the crows got the seedlings, or the plants just never got big enough to yield a good harvest.
green onions - easy to grow, but not all that exciting.
zucchini - easy, fast, and impressive size, but it takes a good recipe to get children excited about zucchini.
strawberries - great, but can be a struggle with the predators. We chose the 'ever-bearing' strawberry varieties which have smaller fruit but which bear all summer. Netting the plants from the birds and raccoons, however, was a constant chore which the young children often forgot. Birds became caught in the strawberry netting, which was never fun.
watermelon - similar to pumpkins to grow. They have to be well grown to be large and tasty. In our experience, the fruit was smaller than expected and not very sweet. We prefer to give the space to pumpkins.
Tips for gardening with children
them their own garden beds.
Whether you use raised beds, containers or ground plots,
be sure to give each child his or her own separate plot. Keep it small,
very small for young kids. Put their plots right in the middle of the
action, with the best soil and light. Set them up for success.
Give them serious tools. Cheap plastic child's gardening tools are worse than no tools at all; they break easily and frustrate the user. It can be hard to locate good tools for kids, especially work gloves that fit a small hand. With some garden tools, like a hoe or spade, you can easily saw the handle shorter. Let them use your tools if need be; in this way you're acknowledging the importance of the work they're doing.
them through the entire process, from seed to table. Children
learn better when they understand the context of their activity. They
will learn that gardening can be fun, but far more than idle play; they
are contributing to the family well-being. Besides planting and nurturing
their garden beds, be sure they alone do the harvesting and preparation
of their crop for the table, no matter how modest the offering.
When all else fails, make a scarecrow. The best time to engage children in gardening is when they're in the mood for this activity. If their attention wanes, or the garden tasks become boring, let them build a scarecrow. This activity is still a contribution to the gardening effort and adds another layer of interest to the garden scene. It also reminds the child of the importance of the garden crops.
off their work.
When giving 'garden tours' to friends, be sure to point out the children's
beds. Take a photo of their harvest and send it to the grandparents. The
attention given to their work is the best motivator for children to stay
involved with a project.
for young gardeners
The Great Plant Escape - this is a great primer on gardening written for children; follow the clues and learn the plant growing basics.
My First Garden - a wonderful site from the University of Illinois. All you need to know about getting started with your first garden in a fun and kid-friendly way.
The Adventure of Herman the Worm - Activities, games, and linfo.
KinderGARDEN - Has many links and resources for teaching children about gardening. Check out the fun page and the book list.
The Kids Garden - Creative children's gardening ideas from the UK