How Does Your Garden Grow?

Parents & Kids Magazine
March 2011

View PDF of magazine here.

After being cooped up inside during the long, dreary days of winter, your family may be getting a little antsy for longer days, warmer nights, and spending time outdoors in the sunshine as a family. Most children will jump at any excuse to play in the dirt, so take advantage of your child’s curiosity by introducing them to gardening. Beginning a garden with your child is a great outdoor activity that will encourage quality time as well as providing a hands-on, educational experience.

Planting a family garden is an activity that every member of the household can participate in. Smaller children can assist with small tasks like dropping seeds into the ground or patting down loose soil while older children can play an active role in planning and maintaining the garden. By watching a tiny seed grow and bloom, your child will appreciate all that went in to creating life – water, sunlight, soil, etc. They will also learn patience as they wait and watch their seeds begin to sprout. Including vegetables in the mix will encourage children to make good food choices as well as boost their self-esteem as they harvest and prepare the vegetables they grew for a family meal.

Before dusting off the shovels and gardening gloves, think about what you would like your children to take away from this experience. Sit down with them and read a few books together on gardening to spark their interest. Even if the weather is still a little too chilly to get out in the yard, you can still get a head start indoors by spreading newspapers out on the kitchen table and rounding up a few foam cups or pots, potting soil, and a couple packets of seeds. Place the seed cups in a sunny window and watch your seedlings grow!

If your family doesn’t already have a garden established, choosing the right location is very important. Consider what type of garden your family intends to plant. For example, vegetable gardens will need access to at least eight hours or sunlight while some flower varieties prefer partial sun or shade. Soil content, access to a water source, and garden size are other factors to consider as well as visibility. Children are more likely to stay interested in their garden if it is in a location where they play or pass by often. The more they see their garden, the more they will notice changes.

Adult gardening tools may be too large and clumsy for little hands to wield, so consider purchasing a few smaller, kid friendly tools. These items may include a child-sized hoe, rake, spade, gardening gloves, and watering can. Designate a special place for your child to keep their tools and instruct them to clean them and put them away after each use to establish good habits.

Once your bed is prepared, you are now ready for the fun part – planting! Sit down as a family and discuss what types of plants will be included in your family garden. Children will love being a part of the decision making process, but keep in mind that not all plants are kid friendly. Sunflowers, lettuces, radishes, cherry tomatoes, and snow peas are all excellent additions to a family garden because they are easy to grow, sprout within a short period of time, and are fun to harvest. Bright colorful flowers such as zinnias and cosmos are ideal for cutting and bringing indoors.

Waiting for your garden to bloom may be an exercise in patience. Have your children start a gardening journal where they can draw pictures of the garden, what they think the plants will look like once they’ve bloomed, and any bugs they see. Encourage them to write about what they like about gardening and about the changes they’ve seen as the garden begins to progress. As an added activity, consider building a scarecrow to keep out any unwanted “pests.”

Ensure your family’s gardening experience remains an enjoyable activity by implementing a few rules of safety. Ask your garden supply center about the ingredients in your potting soil and whether it is safe for children. Read the labels of your seed packages – some seeds are coated with chemicals that may be harmful. Always be sure to supervise children when using tools or during watering and watch for stinging insects. Since you’ll be outdoors, be sure to take provisions to prevent sunburn.

Gardening can be an exciting adventure that will not only appeal to your child’s natural sense of curiosity, but open the door for a variety of valuable life lessons. Children enjoy trying new activities, especially when they are having fun. More important, they will love spending quality time with you.