Gardening with kids can be a challenge. But getting kids involved in the garden offers many great benefits and will eventually pay off for your family! To help you, here are my best tips and tricks for gardening with kids of all ages and stages.
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Our garden bloom is in full-swing, and that means LOTS of time spent working, weeding, tending, and picking (and later canning and preserving). And most of that is done with our three small children underfoot!
Not only is gardening with the kids and around the kids (… and let’s be honest, despite the kids) a necessity if we want to reap a decent harvest, it’s also good for them! Getting kids involved in the garden builds self-esteem, develops responsibility, and teaches them about nature and the food they eat — as well as many other benefits.
But how in the world do you garden with kids without losing all your plants (or your sanity)??
Well… it can be tricky. And I can’t lie to you — we’ve lost a few plants (as well as a bit of our sanity) to our toddlers’ feet and overeager picking hands.
But over the last several years, we’ve picked up a few tricks that have made gardening with our kids a productive, learning, and even enjoyable experience!
Here are my best tips for gardening with kids (by age and stage):
25+ Tips for Gardening With Kids
The nice thing about babies is they’re pretty stationary, so gardening with them is fairly easy if you have a content baby (which, unfortunately, we did not). Your biggest objective with babies is to keep them happy and keep them safe, shaded, and hydrated.
- For small babies, you can babywear with either a baby wrap or baby carrier while you work. I mean… you can do it with an older baby, too, if you’re Superwoman. But it definitely gets tricky as they get bigger/more active.
- Put baby in a stroller with some snacks (older babies) and toys, and park it near where you’re working. Be sure to keep him/her shaded!
- Set up a Pack ‘N Play or some other kind of play yard (here’s a great play yard for outside, and here’s a convenient on-the-go option!), and give them a few age-appropriate toys. Make sure they are shaded.
- Bring out a portable activity center
- Take turns with your spouse working in the garden while the other one watches the baby inside. (A quick game of Rock, Paper, Scissors comes in handy here.)
- Work in the garden during naps and after the baby goes to bed.
Toddler (1-3 years)
Once they become mobile (and before they can be helpful), it definitely gets more interesting! But this is a wonderful time of exploration and discovery.
Here are some tips for gardening with toddlers:
- Have LOTS of extra patience!! Accept that gardening with toddlers is going to take extra time and you’re not going to get as much done. Remind yourself that this phase is temporary, and keep the big picture in mind.
- Go into it with a positive attitude and remember to think long-term. Gardening with toddlers is all about training for the future, so direct, but don’t squelch, their efforts and enthusiasm to help.
More practically, here are some things you can do while gardening with toddlers:
- Let them dig/play in the dirt
- Give them a bowl of already-picked produce to play with
- Pair them with an older sibling to play with
Preschooler (3-5 years)
We’ve finally reached the age where gardening with kids becomes less of a frustration and more of a joy!
Around this age, kids can start actually being helpful (especially if they’ve been in the garden from birth). There is still some training involved, but they can be more independent and unsupervised.
Here are some tips for gardening with preschoolers:
- Include them in the planting. Our preschoolers have enjoyed scooping handfuls of planting soil and the organic fertilizers we use into the holes and filling them back up after we plant the seeds/seedlings.
- Get them kid-sized gardening tools.
- Give them a watering can or hose and let them help water (with supervision).
- Involve them in the harvesting when the produce is ready. Yes, they’ll probably pick some that aren’t ready (in fact, I can pretty much guarantee it), but that’s part of the training. And they’ll love being a big helper!
- Start showing them weeds. As you work in your garden, point out the difference between the weeds and the plants. Show them what to pick and what to leave in the ground.
Young Kids (6-9)
By this stage, you can get your kids very involved in the garden, as well as give them more autonomy and ownership in the process.
Here are some tips for gardening with elementary-aged kids:
- Involve them in the planning. Give them some stake in the game by letting them help pick out plants and ask them for their thoughts and preferences.
- Include them in the planting. By this age, they can help prep the soil, dig holes, and even plant seeds/seedlings (depending on the child).
- Give them a watering can or hose and let them water the plants.
- Assign them a small patch of weeding that’s “theirs” to maintain. Start small, offer supervision and feedback, and be patient.
- Give them age-appropriate garden tools. You might be surprised what they can handle! Our 6-year-old can use spades, hoes, and a rotary cultivator.
- Ask them to help pick when the produce is ready. Kids this age are pretty good at picking ripe produce (especially if they’ve been trained early), so let them have at it!
- Pair them with younger siblings. Sometimes what’s most helpful is to have them occupy their preschool, toddler, or baby siblings and keep them out of trouble.
Hurray! This is the finish line stage. By this age, kids can help with every part and aspect of the garden (with some continued supervision, guidance, and feedback).
Of course, you may have traded unbridled energy and lack of knowledge with attitudes and busy schedules. But they are at least physically able to work in the garden by this point.
Full disclosure: I don’t have any kids in this stage yet. But from what I know and have read about kids this age, here are some tips that might help:
- The more “skin in the game” they have, the better, so give them a very active role in the planning of the garden. Let them grow the plants that interest them.
- Assign them a group of plants to be “theirs” to tend and keep alive. This will give them some ownership, as well as provide opportunities to practice diligence and responsibility.
- Work in the garden together. Everything is more tolerable when you do it with people you enjoy! Plus, it’ll be a great opportunity for organic (pardon the pun) conversation.
- Invite them to accompany you when delivering your excess goodies to neighbors and friends. Seeing the joy your gift brings to others may motivate them to work. At the very least, it will be a good service opportunity.
- Lavish them with praise, encouragement, and appreciation. No one likes to have their hard work be constantly unappreciated or criticized, and everyone works harder with praise and encouragement.
Those are my best tips for gardening with kids of all ages and stages. Now I want to hear from you! If you’ve ever gardened with kids, give us all your best tips in the comments below!
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