Every parent knows that your hobbies take a back seat to taking care of children, but it’s easy to share your love of gardening with kids! Children are naturally curious, and curious about nature, so with a little bit of planning, you can pass your green thumb onto the next generation.
Although it seems obvious, it’s worth remembering that the younger the child, the shorter the attention span and the less “work” they can do in the garden. For toddlers, the easiest thing to do is to give them one task to take charge of. For example, your child’s job might be picking up as many sticks from your garden as she can, while you take care of the weeding. Have her put them into a big pile to give her a sense of accomplishment. Be patient, and be aware that whatever job you give a toddler, you will probably have to finish.
Older children can help with your garden, but a more rewarding experience for both of you may be for your child to develop his or her own garden plot. Have him stake a claim in a small part of your garden or help him develop a new bed in a different area. Keep the plot manageable for the child’s age and ability, and once again, remember that you will likely have to do a lot of work to keep the garden going. Take care not to turn something you love into a chore for your child.
It’s fun to involve your child in the entire development and execution of the garden. Start when the snow is still flying by helping to draw out the plot and discuss what your child would like to plant in it. Remember, this is likely to change when you get to the nursery, so be flexible, while being sure to offer guidance in order to avoid planting a garden that won’t grow — although even this can be a great learning experience. Have your child come along to the nursery to pick out their plants, or sprout plants from seeds. Every one of us remembers the grade-school experiment in which we grew a bean plant in a paper cup, and that miracle is easily shared with your child.
Kids love to plant things they can easily identify, so this generally means they will choose things like pumpkins, tomatoes, tulips, and sunflowers. Another fun idea, especially for an older child, might be to plant a “theme” garden. For example, a salsa garden could contain tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, and cilantro. Also, while kids may not like to eat them, many culinary herbs grow quickly and are interesting for them to smell and taste.
Remember that kids love to have their own things, so get your child appropriately-sized garden tools of their very own. It’s always amazing what his or her very own trowel or fancy hose nozzle will pay back in a child’s dedication to the job at hand.
If you’ve got the space and the inclination, encourage your child to spend more time in the garden by building a little garden shed, tent, or other hiding place.
Remember, the best thing to do is keep this fun. Encourage your child no matter what happens, and let them learn by doing. If you do, the lessons and the memories will last, whether their flowers bloom or not.