No, it’s really not too late in the season to get your kids interested in gardening. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s a great outdoors activity! Studies have shown over and over again that children who are involved in growing their own food are much more likely to develop healthy eating habits. Those involved in nurturing gardens – be it flowers or vegetables – generally mature into adults who are take pride in caring about and protecting the environment.
Even if your kids haven’t help to plant this year’s garden, give them a chance to pick vegetables or fruit or even flowers from a neighboring garden, CSA or “You Pick” farm, and then spend some time this winter planning next year’s garden!
Gardening is also a great learning tool and crosses a variety of subjects – from reading and spelling as they study the instructions on seed packets and create row markers, to math as they plot out their space, and of course science when they’re examining the earth worms and other critters in their garden beds! They also learn about taking responsibility for their surroundings, and how patience pays off.
Here are a few easy ways to get your children or grandchildren interested in gardening.
Start small . . .
There’s no need to make it feel and look like “work”. Trying to plant and maintain a large plot may seem overwhelming to a little one. If you have limited space, you may want to start with a small container garden instead – even if it’s in an old wheelbarrow, wagon or tub. Regardless of how large or small your plot is, make certain it’s safe from pet (and people) foot traffic.
If they’re under about age 8, buy a few inexpensive child-sized tools to make it as easy as possible for them to work the soil. For older children, adult sized trowels will be fine.
- Have them select the vegetables they’d like to grow (and eat).
- Some of the easiest seeds to plant – even mid-summer – are carrots (small varieties like Nantes), lettuce and green beans. Cucumbers need a bit more time but you may be able to find plants at your local garden center, and cherry tomatoes are another good bet for kids.
- Let them dig and turn the soil, plant the seeds, pat them down and gently water them.
- Have them make and place decorative row markers using inexpensive wooden craft sticks or paint stirrers.
- Make certain they take the time to go into their little garden patch every few days to see the progress and to water (and weed) if needed.
- Encourage them to help with the harvest and meal preparation as your go from garden to table.
Make it extra kid-friendly . . .
If time and space allows, help them to build a green bean teepee, planting pole beans on all side. By the end of the summer, they’ll have a cool little tent and beans enough for the whole family. The teepee can also be used as a trellis for cucumbers or squash.
If you or your child are growing pumpkins, mid-summer is about the time when you can actually “personalize” your pumpkins with the child’s name or message. Simply take a ball-point pen and gently scratch the surface of a pumpkin to scar it. As the pumpkin grows, the scar grows as well and the name or message appears. We haven’t tried this with zucchini or summer squash but it may be worth a try too!
Add a bit of beauty to your home and neighborhood . . .
Do you remember the first dandelion bouquet you brought home? Children love to pick and give colorful flowers, so why not encourage your child to plant some easy-to-grow flowers and then let them pick them for bouquets. If it’s too late in the season to plant seeds, check your local garden center for end-of-the season discounts on annual 6 packs of annuals. Fast growing flowers that can be grown easily from seed include calendula, zinnias, nasturium, cosmos and some sunflower varieties.
Encourage them to share . . .
If you have enough space, encourage your child to “Plant a Row for the Hungry” and share their bounties with those less fortunate. It’s a great way to introduce children to the importance of, and joy in giving.
If it’s too late in your season to get started or you don’t have the time or space this year, there’s still time to visit public gardens, most of which include all sorts of children’s activities and projects year-round!
Click here for more ideas on gardening with kids.