With Earth Day upon us, not to mention the warmer and longer spring days, many of us have been heading into our gardens. Around much of the Northern Hemisphere, this is the peak time to sow some seeds into the ground, as well as plant a lifelong gardening habit into the children in our lives.
Gardening helps families spend time together outdoors, take pride in growing our own food, and connect to others who have lived on the land before us. Although gardening offers a bounty of simple wonder, beauty and fun for even the smallest children, it doesn't hurt to employ a few methods for getting and keeping them especially engaged.
Here are some simple ways to maximize your child’s interest in the garden.
Let children select some plants they want to grow.
Something magical happens when one has ownership of a project from its initial stages. When choosing plants, check that you have the right growing conditions for them to help ensure a successful experience. Planting information is available on seed packets and through garden-supply store folks, who are generally very helpful. You can choose seeds, young seedlings, or a combination of the two. Seeds are more cost-effective and can be especially rewarding and wondrous. Bedding plants of course give your garden instant color.
Chop chores into small blocks.
Kids can lose interest if the project seems daunting. Try to break up the tasks into doable chunks and over more than one session if necessary.
Create a fun space in the garden
. This can be a hiding place that you create with trellises or plantings; a tree stump that can serve as a table for tea parties; or an area that is decorated with whimsical objects you make or find. For instance, pipe cleaners and beads can be used to make simple butterflies, mushrooms and flowers -- they can be placed among the plants and can get wet and still last a long time.
Attract animals to your garden.
Certain plants and flowers are known to attract various butterflies and birds. This can add another level of delight for children. The National Wildlife Federation
has information about how to turn any garden into a habitat for wildlife. Even if you don't get your garden "wildlife" certified, there are a lot of fun, helpful tips for bringing creatures into your yard.
Let your child plant.
This goes back to ownership, plus it's just so much fun to put seeds into the ground and then watch them come up. Large seeds like nasturtium, peas, beans, sunflowers, and gourds can be especially easy for children to handle and poke into holes. Smaller seeds can be mixed with coffee grounds for scattering. You can usually tell the relative size of a seed by shaking the seed packet. You may also want to look for seeds that will sprout and mature relatively quickly.
Let the diggers dig.
Some children prove especially interested in what’s under the ground. For them, an area in which to dig and look at worms and other creatures may be ideal.
Let your child harvest.
Children also love to harvest what they’ve grown. Be sure to have them experience picking their own vegetables or flowers (with you helping to cut stems, as necessary.) Cooking or baking with the food you’ve grown is, of course, a delight. Strawberries are really fun to grow and eat right in the garden -- I've had the best luck with young plants rather than seeds. Catnip is fun to grow if you have an appreciative cat. And flowers are fun to give others on Earth Day, May Day or anytime.
For more tips and pictures, see my blog, Slow Family Online
Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman