10 Tips for Gardening With Children
Gardening with children is so special, and full of opportunities for learning, connection, and joy. Together you can tend to plants, play and cook food from the garden that you have created together. Tilth Alliance’s Youth & Families Coordinator and Educator Benay O’Connell plans and teaches programs for children of all ages in the garden. She has 10 tips for gardening with young people.
- Include children in planning and designing the garden. Kids often have creative ideas about what and how to grow! Including them in your garden planning also increases the likelihood they will be interested in helping out and eating what you grow together. For picky eaters, try choosing one thing to grow that they like to eat and then encourage them to grow one new crop for an “adventure bite!”
- View the garden from a child’s point of view. Children are curious, love to play and hide, and experience with their senses. Make sure your garden reflects this. Grow plants that smell, taste, look and feel interesting. Grow plants of different heights for children to hide and play among. Some examples include large fennel bushes to hide in, high bean tents to play in and low arch trellises to crawl through.
- Include art in your garden. Kids love to help paint plant markers, make mosaics and create other garden decorations.
- Cooking and preparing snacks from your vegetable garden is fun for kids and adults. The more children help in the process, from planning and tending to harvesting and cooking, the more likely they are to taste and enjoy what you make together.
- The garden is a great place to introduce children to the idea of stewardship. When we care for the garden, the garden cares for us in return. Taking care of living beings, plants and animals alike, is a powerful experience. Don’t underestimate a child’s ability to care for the garden! Consider giving them ownership of their own plot, or include them in many aspects of garden care.
- Instead of treating garden care as a chore, model care and joy in tending the garden. Show children the wonder of seeds, the delight of harvesting, the calm of watering, and the satisfaction of weeding. Children will often request to help out by intrinsic motivation.
- Kids love water! Younger children will spend many happy hours using a watering can to tend to plants, and older children can earn the honor of using a hose. You can even create rainbows together by arching the water flow on a sunny day. Safely spraying each other with the hose is great fun!
- If younger children are a little too excited about digging or making mud where plants are growing, consider devoting a bed to exploration. This means your other beds will not suffer, less conflict between you and the child, and you can encourage their curiosity by adding small fossils, shells, or other goodies for them to dig up.
- Kids love bugs. Many garden critters, though they may be scary to us, are harmless and allow children to connect with the more than human world. Show children how to be gentle with bugs. Hold them in an open palm, touch them gently with two fingers. Let children explore the undersides of pots, bricks, stones and logs. Consider setting up a worm bin. This will help your garden and delight your children.
- See the garden as a fun outdoor classroom. The garden is a great place to conduct scientific investigations (are bees more attracted to the yellow or white flowers in our garden?), practice ethical decision making (how should we address the aphids on our kale?), use our practical math skills (measuring how far apart to plant seeds, weighing produce), learn different languages (writing the names of our plants in different languages on plant markers), and learn about plants and ecosystems. Create a garden journal with your child, go on “wondering walks” around the garden, and learn by doing.