Gardening for Children
Gardening for children is a very rewarding activity for both you and your children (or grandchildren). Little children are naturally interested in everything around them and when taught to observe nature and appreciate it at a young age, it will likely become a life-long habit.
Perhaps you don’t know a lot about nature yourself you say, but that problem is easily solved. Take the lead from your child. Get down on your hands and knees and explore the world of tiny things right along with them.
Go to the library and look for picture books on what interests them, read them over and over again and try to find the things they mention in the book. The list is endless, but look for books about gardens, insects, flowers, and birds to encourage their love of everything natural.
When my first son was very little, he developed an interest in birds. We encouraged his interest by pointing out birds every time we saw them. We taught him the names, the songs when we knew them, and we tried to find out the names of the ones we saw frequently but couldn’t identify.
For awhile everything was birds, and then the phase ended. I was disappointed when I realized he’d moved on, but when he grew up, I realized that his love of birds was still there. He knows a lot about them.
He probably thinks he learned it by osmosis, because I know he has no conscious memories of his two year old self. I like to think, though, that his early exposure to birds is one of the reasons he still appreciates them today.
Children love the outdoors, and if you make sure they get outside a lot when they’re little, that love of the outdoors will never go away. They also behave a lot better when they get to play outside a lot, and they don’t get bored outside because from a young age they have found endless things to do to amuse themselves.
The only supplies you need to garden with children are a source of water, a sand box, things to dig with and things to put things in. (pails and shovels). You probably also could use a large magnifying glass and some collection jars for little pets when they reach age three to four.
Toddlers can dig with a spoon or even just scratch the earth with a found object such as a stick. They love looking at leaves, ants, and pebbles, and can be entertained for long periods of time with just these available to them. Learn the names of the leaves in your yard,too, and teach them the names when they are interested in them.
In fact, name everything for them. Toddlers understand language long before they can speak it. If you don’t know the names, learn them yourself. That’s the joy of young children. You can learn right along with them. It will reawaken your own curiosity about the world we live in, and probably brighten your outlook in the process.
When our first two grandchildren were very little, their parents we’re building a house and so they lived with us for a few months. It was such a rewarding experience. When small children wake up in the morning, they are excited. It’s a new day! Everything is new and there are wonders to be discovered and explored.
As we grow up and the world isn’t so mysterious any more, we tend to lose this enthusiasm for a new day, and when you’re the parent you are so close to the situation you can’t always appreciate the dawdling and repetitiveness of small child behavior, but believe it or not this stage doesn’t last forever.
In fact, looking back now from the other side, the time when the children were little was just a blip on the radar screen. If you are fortunate enough to be a grandparent, it is such a wonderful time of life. Now, hopefully you do have the time or the inclination to spend the time outside just dawdling around with your grandchild.
Gardening for children is really gardening for you and enjoying a child’s company, and enthusiasm in the process. You can pretty much do any chore that needs doing in your garden and in the mean time the child is busy in the dirt pile, sand box or with a puddle or pool of water.
Their attention to small details will reawake in you an appreciation for all the not so common things that we frequently take for granted. Let their awe in their natural surroundings, kindle your own.
Children love to water plants, dig in the dirt, collect pebbles and watch bugs, and if they pick up a worm or a centipede try not to act grossed out. When our grand daughter was two, everything she found was, “Oh, it's so cute!”
I knew her mother didn’t enjoy the same enthusiasm for bugs, but she was very careful not to share her inclinations with her daughter. Who knows, maybe these early loves will someday become a career, but even if they don’t; it’s never too early to learn an appreciation for all the living creatures on our earth.
Now is the time to pull out the magnifying glass and study close up the magnificent complexity of the tiny insects on our patios and in our gardens.
Many of these insects are what we call beneficials. Not all insects are things that cause damage or ruin our gardens. In fact beneficials are insects that pollinate plants, eat other destructive bugs, and keep our garden healthy.
Some beneficials include worms, honey bees, ants, and lady bugs. Worms aerate the soil and help plant matter decompose and enrich the soil. Honey bees pollinate flowers and of course make honey. Ants and ladybugs eat aphids and other destructive insects.
Another fascinating insect to children are lightning bugs. Every child should have the opportunity to be out at dusk and chase them around the yard trying to catch a few to observe in a jar for a short while. The look on their faces when they see them light up right before their eyes is magical.
Children love ownership and if it's possible, give them their own little space to garden in. Choose some seeds that germinate and grow quickly and help them to plant them, recognize the seedlings when they emerge from the earth, and tend them through the growing season.
Look for seeds that are funky, too. Gourds and pumpkins come in a wide variety of shapes and colors now, and when they're ripe they are great for painting, carving and decorating. Below is a beautiful snake gourd. Eventually it was dried, painted, google eyes were added and it hung in my classroom for about ten years. My students loved it!
One seed to definitely choose is Sunflower, Not only do they grow quickly, they get big! Kids love them. Birds love them,too. When they're ripe you're sure to find some goldfinches feasting on the harvest. If you're fast enough you can cut off the head and save it to put out in the garden during the winter for a special treat for the winter birds.
The giant sunflower above grew to over 12 feet tall. The stalks were saved and made into a trellis teepee the following year. They can also be planted in such away as to create a living fort for little kids!
Vegetables are much tastier if you’ve grown them yourself and even a small child knows that. In fact, one way to increase the amount of vegetables your child eats is let them help to grow them.
During the warm summer months, a source of water is a must to small children. A tiny trickle coming out of a hose can entertain them for hours. If you live in an apartment and only have limited outdoor space, you can still use a dish pan, a few inches of water and some cups and spoons.
It’s amazing how much work you can get done while your child is so happily occupied. Or perhaps it’s time to sit down and enjoy the garden. While your child is so busy, you’ll be just as busy counting your blessings and enjoying the miracles that surround you.
Having a child size bench in the garden is great for them to sit down on and enjoy the garden, too.
Having a bird feeder and perhaps a hummingbird feeder, in your yard are easy ways to introduce your child to birds. Place the feeders close to the house so that you’ll be to enjoy the birds' exquisite colors when they frequent your feeder.
Hummingbirds, especially, are not shy and once they’ve found your feeder will come again and again all through the day even if you are sitting or playing close by. I never tire of watching them myself. I can only wonder how magical they must seem to little children.
When the flowers start to bloom,the butterflies. will arrive,too. Point them out. Try to observe them, but let them be. Teach your child that their wings are very fragile and we should just enjoy them with our eyes, not our fingers. You can collect the caterpillars, though, if you can find them and raise them in insect cages. Release the butterflies back into the garden when they hatch.
Be sure to help your child pick bouquets. Keep some on your own table all the time so you can enjoy and study them up close and encourage them to take flowers to the person down the street that maybe doesn’t have a garden or could just use a visit from a small child.
These are simple and enjoyable things that that make the time in the garden so rewarding, and hopefully you are creating memories and habits that will last a life time.
Gardening for children is more than just temporary pleasure. It is a life style that reduces stress, increases knowledge and ensures that another generation is learning to respect and venerate the earth that we all live on.
Gardening for Nature
Perennial Garden Ideas
Gardening Books for Children
More Ideas for Gardening with Children
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