Gardening Tools for Children
Tools for Garden Play
My daily work includes the privilege of seeing children dig in an empty garden plot. I like to imagine the possibilities that must race through their minds when they first see a blank span of soil just waiting for them to cultivate with their creativity. This joyful anticipation is only heightened when they spy the supply of garden tools available for their use and they notice that all of the tools are JUST THEIR SIZE! I’ve actually seen them hop up and down with joy when they spot the stack of miniature shovels and watering cans.
Where to Start?
Before you can have a child make use of their tools, a nice bit of soil in which to dig is essential. The best option is to clear a little space in an existing flower bed or garden plot so that the child doesn’t have to worry about disturbing anything that a grownup has planted (and the grownup won’t have to worry, either!). Provide the child with something to plant: seeds, sprouted plants or even plastic flowers!
Shovels are Essential
The tool for digging is a shovel. A variety of child-sized shovels are available. My favorite type of child’s shovel has a handle that is no more than 20 to 25 inches long, with an overall length, including the blade, of 36 inches. It is important to make sure that the blade is made out of metal. A plastic blade won’t feel like a ‘real’ shovel to the child and it also won’t be able to dig through soil that is any more dense than beach sand. Also, do not buy a shovel for digging that has a flat edge. It needs to be at least rounded or even better, come to a slight point. This allows the child to really catch an edge when thrusting the blade into the soil. You will likely need to instruct the child on how to dig using a shovel. It is not always intuitive to them that you need to place your foot on the top of blade that is bent backwards near the handle. This foot rest is designed to give greater digging power and will enable the child to dig a hole that is more than a few inches deep. Digging a hole is something that can make kids confident and proud.
Try a Trowel
If you prefer that the child start out small, you can always provide a trowel. This is sometimes referred to as a small hand shovel or hand spade. This is one tool I have found that buying the child-sized version is not ideal. By definition, it is already child-sized. Trowels that are made for children do not hold up well and bend or break too easily. It is a tool that gets a lot of pressure at the point where the blade meets the handle, so it needs to be tough. Buy a regular trowel, just keep in mind that like the shovel, it should have a metal blade that comes to a point.
The Right Rake
Buy a rake that is child sized. I prefer a rake that has a metal head, for the same reason I prefer a metal shovel. It feels more ‘real’ to the child and it can actually perform tasks. When considering a children’s rake, make sure that the tines on it are close enough together to actually gather leaves, soil, mulch…whatever they will be raking. Also, make sure there are enough tines to do the job. While a five-tined rake may look more child-friendly, it probably will just frustrate them.
Watering Can Basics
A watering can helps satisfy a child’s need to nurture something. Make sure that it is proportioned for a child. If you give a child a lightweight adult watering can, they probably will not be able to lift it when it is full of water. If you give a child a smaller watering can, you are curbing the amount of water they will use. Children have a tendency to dump way too much water on gardens, drowning plants and creating mud lakes where you may not want one. A small watering can requires more trips back to the hose or water source, so it naturally slows down the rate at which they water their garden. Additionally, if the spout has smaller holes in it, this also slows down the rate at which the garden receives water, making a muddy mess less likely.
To Glove or Not to Glove?
The question of using gloves often comes up. I am of the opinion that gloves are great if children are gathering twigs and logs to create a fort or if they are pulling weeds. I am not a fan of using gloves if the activity involves working the soil. I feel that children should get right in there and see how it feels to have moist soil squish between your fingers. Touching nature is one way you grow to love it.
Children respond when they see that a tool has been designed just for them. Purchase a few quality tools and just watch them invent thousands of different ways to garden!
Just for Fun
If you have cleared a spot for children to dig in the soil, provide something fun for them to plant. A mix of instant and delayed gratification will keep them coming back for more. For instant gratification, purchase some inexpensive artificial stemmed flowers. Children love to dig a hole and ‘plant’ these in designs and ways that are of their choosing. You can also gather or purchase seeds to plant. Radishes are great for something that will sprout quickly. Tree seeds (think helicopters from maple trees or acorns), take longer to sprout and have varying germination rates, but they sure are fun to collect! It is best to gather them soon after they have fallen from the tree.