A Family Garden: The Importance of Gardening with Children
Whether you have one or multiple children ranging from toddler to teenagers they will enjoy working in the garden. Digging, planting, watering, and harvesting plants can be a fascinating and fun daily activity for your children when given the chance.
What child doesn't like to dig in the dirt? Giving them a job digging holes can be a fun and educationally way to get them interested in gardening. Harvesting that longing to dig, into something productive is a great way to keep your children from digging holes elsewhere.
Gardening with children requires a relaxed and patient attitude. Working with children is going to take longer and the planting will be less straight, but the outcome will be the same. Fresh flowers, fruits, and vegetables to enjoy year round planted by your family will greatly increase the likelihood of your children eating a larger variety of foods.
Children Helping in the Garden:
Being child oriented is a must. It is not fun for anyone to watch others garden, especially young children. When gardening with children it is important to keep their attention spans in mind. Keeping the gardening sessions short will ensure that the children can finish what they started without getting bored. Break up gardening with running around and playing outside before bringing everyone back together to start the next task. By breaking up the process you are ensuring that you will be able to keep the younger children's attention, keeping the interested and learning about gardening.
Having child sized tools is a great way to help them feel a part of the gardening process. Not only do you want to keep the child's attention, but you want the child to be able to use the tools properly and safely. A young child will have a harder time using a rake or hoe that is too large for them. Providing them with a small spade or sand rake is a great way to empower your child and make them feel like they make a difference in the garden. Size and safety are important factors when allowing children to work in the garden.
Children who have the ability to finish their tasks will have a greater feeling of accomplishment and importance. You may not be able to get everything done in one setting, and the garden may not look the prettiest, but your children are learning the importance of gardening, where food comes from, and responsibility. Children who garden are more likely to try and enjoy eating a variety of fruits and vegetables.
When choosing seedlings for planting with children, it is a good idea to keep in mind the ease of growing those seeds as well as how much those seeds will yield later. Some great seedlings for children are those that are large in size, have a high packet count, and are cheap. These types of seedlings will create less stress later when casualties occur. You may want to consider giving your child a few choices so they can help pick some vegetables or fruits for the garden as well. The more active your child can be in the gardening process the more they will want to help and enjoy eating the harvests they helped create.
Easy Seeds For Planting with Children:
Plant to Harvest
Sugar Snap Peas
8 Grams (approx. 32 seeds)
Roughly 65 days
Beans (Romano Poles)
Walla Walla Sweet Onion
Garlic (Early Italian)
There are bound to be casualties in every garden and this is sure to be true in a garden where children are working. Having a reserve of seedlings is a way to help keep the casualties to a minimum. Children are bound to drop and lose seedlings as well as stand on and break flowers and other plants. The extra seedlings will help lessen the stress later.
The above table showcases just a few plants that are great for children to plant. The seeds are bigger and they come with more than just five seeds in a packet. Peas and beans are also perfect because they can be eaten right off the vine if desired. The children will not have to wait until supper to enjoy the harvest. Beans and peas also ripen throughout the growing season so they can continually have something to harvest throughout the summer and into fall.
Carrots are another favorite of mine, however the seeds are very tiny and are harder for little children to plant. If you are choosing to do carrots be prepared to have a large harvest of carrots that are going to be far from perfect. When we did ours I dug two rows and simply let our son sprinkle the seeds in. We ended up with smaller carrots, as most of the carrots were too close together to grow very large, however he absolutely loves the baby carrots he grew. The carrots are not the size that they could have been, but my son learned how to grow vegetables and has grown a love for garden carrots. He refuses to eat store bought carrots and I could not be more proud of that.
Raspberries and Other Easy Plants:
Raspberry, strawberry and blueberry plants are some of the easiest plants for children to help plant. These plants can also be successfully planted in potted plants making them an ideal choice for those with little room for gardening.
Raspberries are super easy to grow and even come in thorn-less and ever-bearing varieties. Ever-bearing means they produce two seasons of fruits. You will get raspberries starting in June and ending in the fall. We bought our ever-bearing raspberries from American Meadows and I am in love. We bought three canes and now have six, as these heritage raspberries multiple quickly. We had raspberries starting in June and had berries still producing in November when we had our first Wisconsin frost.
Strawberries also come in ever-bearing varieties and are a great choice for container gardens. The ever-bearing varieties do especially well in containers as they produce less runners. June bearing strawberries are also available and planting both would vastly increase your strawberry harvest.
Blueberries are a favorite in my house, and thankfully these plants are easy to grow as well. Blueberries require two different varieties of plants to cross pollinate and produce fruit, as well as two to three years of growing before producing a good amount of fruit. Despite the slow first year or two, blueberries are a great investment for gardening. Like the other berries, blueberries also come in an ever-bearing variety. Blueberries have a wide range of varieties including including early, mid, and late blooming fruits. Getting a few of each plant ensures that you will have an endless supply of blueberries throughout the entire growing season.
Potatoes are also easy to plant, grow, and are very low maintenance. Potatoes need very little work, compared to the abundant harvest you will receive. These plants are not as cool for children to watch, as most of the work happens underground however watching their face when they upturn the potatoes at the end of the harvest is priceless.
Working with Children in the Garden:
Planting with children may mean crooked lines, casualties, and more trips to the garden, but the educational and family value is worth the trouble. If your children are too young or are emotionally attached to their work you can always go back and straighten the rows or replant seeds when they are away, if that is of great importance to you. By discreetly fixing the beds when the children are not looking you get your desired results without losing your child's desire and interest to garden.
It's important to encourage your children to continue to learn and grow in the garden without hurting their feelings or being negative. If we want our children to fall in love with gardening and the plants you are growing it's important to not only encourage them, but to accept their help with the abilities that they have. Eventually with your help your children will be able to create straighter rows and the right depth for each seed. Time and continued encouragement is sure to create a happy little gardener.
Growing and Eating Your Harvest
Giving your children the job of picking, washing, and preparing the fruits and vegetables from the garden allows them to see how and where their food comes from. Watching their tiny seeds sprout to little plants to the end result of beautiful fruits and vegetables is a way for children to connect with nature and learn about the process of growing plants. Knowing that they helped grow their own food brings a greater desire to eat and enjoy the fruits of their labor
If you can avoid influencing your children on what they might like to eat, and let them decide on their own you may be surprised with how adventurous they can be. Watching your body language and facial expressions when serving certain foods can help your child keep an open mind about everything they try. Showing your child that you are leery about them liking certain foods will most likely result in that child not liking or even trying those foods.
Having children help in the garden, may be just the ticket for those picky eaters in your house. After working the summer in the garden your children will want to enjoy the foods they worked so hard to grow.