Parent’s Resource Guide to Gardening With Children
Turn off the computer, TV and video games, it’s time for hands-on, get-down and dirty family time in the garden of life. Children love when parents focus on them. Gardening is a great way to work together to teach children life’s basics. You’re out in the sunshine together, playing in the dirt, mapping out what seeds and plants to cultivate into food and flowers. Gardens help give kids control over a little plot of land, have fun with their families and see becomes of all their hard work.
Getting Started: Planting the Seed
Gardening takes a lot of time and work to keep plants healthy and prospering, so start small, especially if you have never gardened with children before. Kids naturally love all things dirty and love to explore the unknown. Show them how to dig a hole. Let them choose what to plant in their own part of the garden. Show them how to plant the seeds, water them. Gardening teaches kids how to wait. It plants the seeds of patience and sprouts a lifetime of memories.
Garden Planning and Layout
Make sure that your child can easily and safely reach your garden. Keeping it close to your home is better than across the yard, just inside a fence. Not only is it safer to plant a garden close to your kitchen’s back door, but it’s convenient when you need to grab a few fresh vegetables or flowers for your table.
Planning Before Planting: Consider your climate, soil and location before choosing a garden site.
Garden Location Tips: (PDF) Plot your garden near water, where it will get plenty of sun and be convenient to your home, and how to arrange your crops.
Layouts That Work: (PDF) Consider square foot gardening with plenty of pathways so young feet won’t trample plants.
My First Garden: Let your child choose whether to plant a vegetable or a flower garden and show them how they can garden in the most unusual places.
Children in the Garden: How to have fun with your child in your garden, from planning it out to harvest.
Starting a Garden: Tips how to begin and plan your new garden.
Suggestions For Flowers Or Vegetables To Grow
Vegetable gardens needs at least six hours of sunlight per day and well-drained, rich soil. You may need to amend the soil if working with clay by adding compost into the first foot or so of your garden soil. Better yet, start a compost or worm patch as well. You can buy praying mantis eggs and place them in your garden for nature’s best protection against pests. Plus, they are fun to watch and kids get a kick out of their praying hands and alien-like heads. The added bonus—no nasty chemicals needed to keep away the bugs. Make sure that all flowers that you plant with a vegetable garden are non-toxic.
Corn: Easy to start and fun to harvest, use stalks for fall and Halloween decoration.
Pumpkins: You have to have a lot of space available to grow pumpkins as pumpkin vines can get quite unruly. Kids love watching them grow since they are great reminders that Halloween will soon be afoot.
Small Fruit in the Home Garden: Strawberries are a favorite—you can plant them and let them roam, tier them in a circular garden spot or grow them in containers.
The 10 Easiest Vegetables to Grow: Carrots, cucumbers, green beans, lettuce, onion, peas, peppers, radishes, tomatoes and zucchini are favorite garden starters.
Herbs: Set aside a container or a little space in your garden to grow some parsley, lavender or chives.
Sunflowers: Easy to grow and fun to eat the seeds.
Sowing the Seed
In order for a seed to grow, it must be sown. First, explain to your child that the reason the seed is being planted in the hole is for it to draw nutrients from the soil. Once the plant absorbs the nutrients it needs, it begins to germinate or sprout. Keep watch with your child for seedlings to rise above the ground. They get so excited when they first see the fruits of their labors!
Plants in Motion: Watch how seeds germinate.
Seed Germination Schedule: Table showing approximately how many days it will take a seed to germinate.
Seed Doll: This family project gives children hands-on experience in germinating seeds.
Measuring Germination Rates: A great project for scouts, science fair participants or 4-Hers. Older kids can find out how temperature affect seed germination rates.
Seed Starting: How to start vegetable seeds.
Garden Tool List
Garden tools are a must if you want to properly care for your flowers and vegetables. You can buy them at any hardware, home improvement or gardening center. Buy tools at the end of the season for best bargains. You can also find child-size safety tools at most stores, including toy stores and online. Popular garden tools are knee pads for kneeling and weeding, gloves, rakes, hoes, shears, pruners, shovels and garden hoses.
Gloves: Gloves do more than keep your hands from getting dirty, they protect them from garden tools and pesticides.
Hoe: A hoe has a long-handle with a think metal head that you can use to dig out weeds and break up soil.
Hose: The typical garden hose is a long, rubber or plastic tube that attaches to your water spigot so that you can convey water to your needed located—your garden.
Rake: Rakes look much like metal brooms, toothed like a comb, to draw grass, smooth soil or remove debris.
Shears: A larger version of scissors, used to cut flower stems or like a pruner.
Shovel: Shovels are long-handled tools with a wide, flat head and upturned sides, used to move dirt or dig a hole for planting.
Always look at your garden from your child’s eyes. Children can’t see vegetables like tubers growing under the earth, and may decide to explore with garden tools. Spades, shears, hoes and other cultivators can be sharp. Young children often think that they can use tools just like mommy or daddy. Some weeds look like flowers, but can be poisonous to the touch. Buy your child his own child-sized safety garden tools, bucket and gloves. They love having their own equipment and using them to help. Keep pesticides out of children’s reach and if possible avoid all together.
Praying Mantis: Also known as a praying mantid, these bugs are safe and natural insect eaters for your garden.
Garden Safety with Kids: Look at your garden from your curious child’s point of view—it may be more dangerous than you think.
Pesticides and Children: Don’t let your child be over-exposed to any pesticide—they are all toxic on some level and are risky around kids, especially infants.
Safe Use of Pesticides in the Home and Garden: (PDF) Remember—all pesticides are poisons and will leave a residue on vegetables and flowers. Always wash home garden vegetables before using to be safest.
The Last Resort: Use chemicals, like pesticides, always as a last resort in your garden.
Alternatives to Pesticides: Use natural predators to keep your garden pesticide-free.
Fun Gardening Activities
Kids love to be helpful. Help them have fun in the garden. Don’t let it become a chore. When watering the plants, tell them that they are helping along the earth’s water cycle. Make a theme garden and let them choose the theme. Let them harvest what they sow and help you make dinner. It’s a great time to catch up, laugh and learn.
Special Needs Gardening: Parents can adapt these middle school programs for home use with their special needs child.
Aggie Horticulture Just For Kids: Become a junior master gardener and follow the rainbow to good nutrition.
The Perennial Arcade: Games that teach kids about plants: quizzes, mad libs, crosswords and word jumbles.
Worm World: Introduce your young gardener to the joys of worms in the garden.
Seeds of Change: Garden activities for every season.
Gardening Terms Kids Should Know
Every gardener, including beginning ones like children, should know the basic terms of gardening. Knowing what plants will live only one season versus a plant that will come up each year; what a garden plot is; what fertilizer does and what a seedling is will make gardening informative and fun. Parents and children can learn from each other. Gardening is a lifetime of memories and the things that you do and teach your child now will take your child into adulthood.
Annual: A plant that lives only one growing season.