Gardening for Kids 101

If there is one universal kid law, it’s this: they’re bound to get dirty sooner rather than later. Kids simply love to play in dirt. Instead of cringing at yet another load of laundry, embrace it. Spring is the perfect time of year to get children interested in gardening.

You don’t need to recreate Monet’s garden for this to be a good learning experience. My 3-year-old son had a blast growing “hair” on a silly Chia Shrek.

Here are some suggestions to get your little ones out of the house and into gardening:

Get the right tools. Adult-size wheelbarrows and rakes are much too difficult for little hands to use, but there are a ton of smaller items on the market. A little watering can is also a good idea. Hoses are much too big and powerful for small children.

Set aside a part of your garden or a special planter that is “kids only” where your child can dig and plant at any time. If you’re going to give your child part of your garden, it’s best to start small. Too big of a space might be overwhelming.

Let your child choose what to plant (with some gentle steering from you, of course). Look for hardy varieties that grow quickly. Sunflowers are good, as are marigolds. And daisies, zinnias and petunias attract butterflies. You can’t underestimate the awesomeness of a sunflower though; anything that grows higher than Mommy and Daddy is going to be pretty cool in any kid’s book.

Take advantage of the competitive nature between brothers and sisters by staging your own family sunflower growing contest! Here’s how it works: each family member gets a planter and a specified number of seeds (about 5). The object is to grow the tallest sunflower using whatever means necessary (except tampering with others’ plants). The winner gets bragging rights, of course, and the first shot at toasting the sunflower seeds.

If a vegetable garden is more your thing, peas, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes grow quickly. As an added bonus, many kids will actually eat what they grow! Try planning a garden that revolves around a particular food, like pizza. Plant Roma tomatoes, sweet peppers, oregano, basil, onions and even jalapenos for the grown-ups. You could even turn the garden into a pie shape, with each “topping” in its own “slice.”

After the seeds are planted and watered, boredom may set it as you wait for the first hint of green. To help pass the time, let your child decorate labels for the plants or even help build or decorate a small scarecrow. Older children might want to keep a gardening journal by making notes and drawing pictures as the plant matures.

Just as kids like playing with dirt and water — they’re also drawn to bugs. This is a great opportunity to explain how some bugs are beneficial for the garden (like worms), and how others are ones to avoid (like wasps). Consider making a little container for your child to catch grasshoppers, caterpillars and worms to study them further.

If space is limited, here’s something my dad always did: grow an avocado tree. Just take an avocado pit and stick 3 or 4 toothpicks in it. Balance the pit on a glass of water so that only the bottom of the pit is in the water. Eventually, roots grow from the pit and voila! A tree is born. You can plant this in a pot when you see a good root base.

Planting seeds, nurturing them as they grow, and then reveling in the fruits of your labor… we parents certainly know how rewarding the process can be. It’s even better when we can share it with our children.