Gardening With Kids
There are a host of benefits kids derive from gardening – from improved self-esteem to understanding where food comes from.
Staying home more because of coronavirus concerns? This can be an opportunity to get your whole family into the garden – to grow flowers and food. With spring coming, it’s time to pull out the pint-sized gardening gear and get your children rooted in a few dirt -igging endeavors.
“There are a host of benefits kids derive from gardening,” says horticulturalist and child educator Dave Birk. “It improves their self -esteem, teaches responsibility and provides satisfaction in working with their hands.”
Kate Wachtmeister, youth program coordinator at a garden center, agrees. “It also helps them understand the passing of time,” she says. “Gardening isn’t necessarily instant gratification, but something you wait for and work at.”
But it doesn’t have to be all work and no play.
“Make it a scavenger hunt,” Wachtmeister continues. “Each week, give your children a clue or question that is answered in the garden. This will keep them engaged and show them the garden is always changing.”
Also encourage your children to keep a journal with descriptions, measurements, drawings and photographs.
“Two really great plants to begin with are pumpkins and sunflowers because they start so small but grow so large,” says 4-H program leader Joy Sparks. “Children can do weekly measurements and even write and illustrate a story about being in a pumpkin patch or living in a sunflower house.”
The fun doesn’t have to stop there. Following is a potpourri of indoor and outdoor plant-based activities your kids will really dig.
Gather 10, six-foot wooden poles in a pile so the ends line up. About 10 inches from one end, loosely tie the poles together with twine. Stand the bundle up and spread out the untied ends in a circle to frame your teepee. Dig ends into the soil to stabilize the structure. Plant two hardy vine-type seedlings at the base of each wooden rod and begin wrapping the vines up the poles, securing them with ties. Place a blanket inside the teepee. As the plants grow, the foliage will create a shady reprieve for your child.
Children can create a personalized garden using the initials or letters in their name. Once garden soil has been prepared, have your child carve out his name or initials in the soil with a stick. Then plant hardy annuals, such as marigolds, in the impressions. As the plants grow, your child’s name will flourish and fill out. Take the signature theme one step further by having your child write his initials with a pen on a softball-sized pumpkin growing in the garden. Use a paring knife to go over the initials, applying enough pressure to scrape the pumpkin skin. As the pumpkin grows, the initials will expand.
Marked for the Season
Wash and dry smooth, flat rocks that are about three inches in diameter. On the flat surface, have your child sketch with a pencil one of the vegetables planted in your garden. Fill in the illustration with non-toxic acrylic paints. Repeat these steps for all of your vegetable plants. When dry, place these markers at the head of each gardening row.
Measure an eight-foot circle of ground and prepare the soil for planting. Using six, four-foot posts, divide the garden into six sections to resemble pizza slices. Fill in each section with one type of vegetable or herb plant found in pizza – tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, etc. Place rocks around the outer portion of the circle to form the crust. When harvest time arrives, celebrate with a garden-fresh pizza party.
Moisten a new sponge and then sprinkle alfalfa seeds in the sponge holes. Place the sponge in a pan of shallow water and move to a well-lit area. Keep water in the pan and within a few weeks, alfalfa sprouts will grow. Pinch off the ends and add to your salad.
Cut off 3/4- inch tops from a variety of root vegetables such as carrots, beets and turnips. Set vegetable tops in a blue disposable plate with shallow water and place in a sunny location. As the water absorbs, replenish it. Within a few weeks, the vegetable tops will begin to sprout foliage to resemble an island oasis. Add to the scene by cutting out a sailboat and people from Styrofoam meat trays and attaching to the islands (vegetable tops) with straight pins.
Bud and the Beanstalk
Moisten several paper towels and place them around the inside of a clear jar, pressing the towels firmly against the glass. Soak a bean seed in water 24 hours. Then place it between the towels and the jar. Throughout the growing process, keep the paper towels moist by misting with water.
On a piece of cardstock, color and cut out a picture of a castle and a boy named Bud. Glue Bud to the outside of the jar, close to the bean. Attach the castle to the top of a twelve-inch stick with tape. Place the stick outside of the jar next to Bud and secure with string. Once the bean sprouts, wrap the vine upwards around the stick toward the castle. While it grows, write a story about Bud and the Beanstalk.
Books for Growing a Gardener
If your child has been bitten by the gardening bug, check out these books:
Clara Caterpillar by Pamela Duncan Edwards.
Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin.
The Gardener by Sarah Stewart.
How Groundhog’s Garden Grew by Lynne Cherry.
Oliver’s Vegetables by Vivian French.
Over in the Garden by Jennifer Ward.
The Surprise Garden by Zoe Hall.
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle.
Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens.
Looking for more seed to sow? Check out these activity-based gardening titles:
A Child's Garden: 60 Ideas to Make Any Garden Come Alive for Children by Molly Dannenmaier.
Kids' Container Gardening: Year-round Projects for Inside and Out by Cindy Krezel.
How Does Your Garden Grow? Great Gardening for Green-Fingered Kids by Clare Matthews.
Sow and Grow: A Gardening Book for Children by Tina Davis.