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Gardening with children

Gardening with children can be an amazing and fun learning opportunity for the whole family.

I love gardening with our two young children. It’s exciting to watch their reaction to seeing plants grow. They don’t know the experience is educational; they just know they’re having fun. They are outdoors, they are spending time with me, and they are getting dirty (and it’s ok). What’s not to love about that when you’re six and two years old? Children love getting dirty and spending time with family. Gardening is an excellent opportunity to allow them both of those fun options as well as to sneak in a great learning opportunity.

We originally started a garden because our son requested one when we bought our home. My husband and I knew that it would not only be fun, but would be an educational opportunity to grow and learn with it. I began gardening with my father when I was a young child and I have fond memories of playing in the soil, watching the sunflowers grow taller than me and being amazed at seeing eggplant. Most of all, I just wanted to spend time with my dad. I cherish those memories and I hope our children will have fond memories as well.

We’ve included our children in every aspect of gardening. Our son helped design the layout. He drew it out on paper. He helped my husband hand till the garden beds, install the fence, and make the garden door in the workshop. Both kids have planted seeds, watered the garden and harvested fruits and vegetables. They have enjoyed it all and we’ve enjoyed watching them.

Kids learn a lot through play and hands-on activities. Our son was using geometry when he drew the garden layout and was improving his math skills when we measured and calculated the final square footage. Our daughter was learning hand-eye coordination, working on fine motor skills, and cognitive skills. Don’t tell them though. We don’t make a specific point to work on any of those skills. The educational side of gardening comes naturally, and that’s the fun of learning as you play and work in the garden.

Are you gardening with children or are you considering doing so? There are so many easy ways to make the experience fun and educational. Here are a few to consider:

Let children help plan the garden

If you are creating a garden from the beginning or redesigning an established one, consider including them in the process. Kids love to be helpful and to be included in grownup activities. They feel empowered when you listen to their suggestions and implement them. You’ll be boosting their confidence along the way as well. Let them draw their dream garden and ask them questions about it. Talk to them about what you want to grow and ask them what they would like to plant. Don’t look now, but you’ve just worked on cognitive development and speech and language development.

Bring the whole family to the garden on planting day

The day we had our first round of sowing seeds, the whole family was out there participating. It’s important to have children physically plant seeds or transplants. This gives them a chance to see how plants grow from the very first stage. Getting their hands dirty is part of the fun. If your child can read, have them read the directions for planting on the back of the seed packet to work on their reading and comprehension skills. The directions will say how deep to plant the seeds, how far apart they should be and how wide rows need to be. Let them measure the distance to work on math skills. You can dig the holes and let them drop the seeds in, cover them with soil and water them. This will also help them work on listening and following directions.

Maintain the garden together
Planning and planting are a lot of fun. Maintaining the garden while waiting for the plants to grow is the hardest part for children, and most adults really. This is a great test in patience and dedication to a job. Make a plan to spend time in the garden daily. This works on time management. Have your child water the plants and pull weeds. Send them on a scavenger hunt to see what’s growing. Show them how and why to add fertilizer and how to manage garden pests. They’ll learn about the cycle of life, how nature takes its course and how to nurture a growing plant.
Watch their reaction when they harvest

Harvest days are the best. I love this stage of gardening, especially watching the reaction the kids have to seeing what has grown. Each morning when the kids run into the garden, they check to see if there are any beans hanging from the bush beans, if there are new tomatoes or zucchini and if the eggplant is ready to be cut.

Harvest time is another good opportunity to work on listening skills and following directions. Kids are impulsive by nature, so you might have to get them to slow down and think before they just grab what they want. We invite friends over with their children to come pick lettuce and other vegetables as the occasion arises. It’s important to make sure everyone listens and pays attention to what they’re doing so young plants don’t accidentally get stepped on and veggies don’t get picked that aren’t ripe yet.

Children work on hand-eye coordination when picking fruits and vegetables. Young kids can improve fine motor skills this way as well. Scissor skills come in handy when shears are needed to cut eggplant. The kids practice counting too as they load baskets with what they pick.

Overall, they learn that hard work pays off. Together you’ve planned your garden, planted it, cared for it and now you get to enjoy your bounty. What an amazing adventure! Now make sure to include the kids in the final step, eating it!

Turn your little gardeners into little chefs

One of the best ways to get children to try new food is to have them help prepare it. You’ll be surprised to find that something your child wouldn’t even taste before, they’re now eagerly eating. Our son won’t eat store bought blueberries but begs to go out and pick some from his blueberry bush. He eats those as well as the lettuce and carrots he harvests. If you’re comfortable with it, let your children sample fruit and veggies as they pick them right in the garden.

When you get to the kitchen with your bounty, have them wash and dry the fruits and vegetables they just picked. Then talk about the different ways each can be cooked and eaten. Ask them for suggestions or give them options and let them choose. Would they like to try eggplant parmesan or make a stir fry with it? This process works on thinking and reasoning skills. Once you’ve decided what to make, let them help. There are so many skills used in cooking and baking as they read or follow directions, measure and count ingredients, manage their time so everything cooks equally, and more.They’ll be proud of themselves for accomplishing the task and you’ll enjoy seeing them do so.

Gardening is an amazing experience and a fantastic learning opportunity for children. It gives them a chance to learn and grow as the garden grows. The best part however, is spending time together as a family. The memories made will last a lifetime.

Are you gardening with your children? What have you learned from the experience?
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