Gardening can create peace in even the most tormented minds. There have been so many studies that show spending time in nature can encourage your body to produce dopamine, a key “ingredient” in happiness. Of course, if your home is in the middle of the city, finding a way to get back to “nature” might seem hard. It doesn’t have to be, though. Even creating a tiny butterfly garden in your small yard or container garden on your balcony can be enough to trigger those calming feelings. And, it turns out, naturing and gardening aren’t just beneficial for adults — kids can benefit, too. Aside from doing wonders for your kiddo’s overall mood, gardening is a chance to teach healthy eating, Earth science and, well, patience.
If you’re here, you’ve probably already weighed the benefits of gardening, though. What you need now is some hard and fast tips on making gardening feasible, interesting, and rewarding for your kids, right? Luckily, we have just the guide for you.
Before Your Start
Where will you garden?
Before you can decide on what to grow, you need to decide where your garden will live. If you’re working with a windowsill garden, your best bet is to stick with some herbs, succulents, or other small potted plants. If you have a balcony to set out some larger containers and planters, your options open up exponentially. With a container garden, you can grow everything from berries to potatoes and tomatoes. And if you can garden a small plot of land (even something as small as 3’x3′), you open yourself up to even more possibilities. Squash, anyone?
Take note, though: Another important factor in gardening is sunlight. Spend a day or two tracking how much sun your garden-space receives each day. Every seed pack will tell you roughly how much sun your plants will need to flourish. Keep that in mind, too.
What will you plant?
The absolute best way to keep your kids interested in your garden is the make sure you’re growing things they love. If your kid hates peas, for instance, they’re obviously not going to want to grow them. If you have a kid obsessed with spaghetti and meatballs, however, they will “eat up” the idea of growing their own ingredients. Nearly everything you could want for a salsa garden also works for a “spaghetti garden.” Just replace some of the peppers with more tomatoes or extra herbs in the Italian herb family. If you have a fruitarian, don’t be discouraged. Strawberries can be a fairly hardy option to plant and, as a bonus, spread significantly each year. Grapes will, of course, require some fencing to climb (you can try a tomato cage, but it doesn’t always work well).
If growing food isn’t cutting it? Don’t rule out flowers as a viable garden option, even though you were hoping for something more sustainable. Your kiddo’s first garden might need to be a “fairy garden,” instead. Flowers like marigolds are nearly impossible to kill. Use some popsicle sticks to make your fairies some furniture and part of the fun each day will be to come back and try to catch one. There are also tons of ideas on how to turn a garden plot of growing sunflowers into a clubhouse for your own fairy princess.
Once you’ve decided on where and what you’ll grow, you’ll need to figure out when you start your garden. This will depend largely on what you’re planting, but the seed packs usually tell you the optimal time for planting. While you can start your seeds directly in your containers or your garden bed, it’s easy to lose track of what you planted where. It also makes your seeds more prone to outside enemies, like birds and squirrels.
A better option is to start your seeds inside. Save several egg cartons and clear out the space in front of a window. Fill each egg cup with soil and plant a seed or two. Your best option is to use a whole row or whole carton for each kind of plant you want to plant. Don’t worry — you probably won’t end up with twelve tomato plants. Set your egg carton planters in the window and have your little bug spray them almost daily to keep them moist. Once your seeds sprout 2 to 3 inches above the soil, you can plant them in your larger containers or your garden plot. Just make sure to label everything as you plant and move them.
You can also get your child in the mood by showing videos of other kids gardening. The above video, for example, is hosted by a kid giving tips to fellow peers on how to start, what to plant, and how to tend to the garden. You can decide together on the best plants or vegetables to plant and can make a big occasion out of harvesting day if you go the veggie route.
Apart from seeing the fruit (or flowers) of their labor, one of the best parts of gardening with your kids is the cool gardening tools they get to use. We’re not saying to send your kid out into the backyard with a rancher level hoe, but there is a bunch of cute and kid-friendly gear, that’ll make your little one feel just as agricultural.
Gardening is a lot of work and a really dirty job. As they tend to their garden, you can protect your little one’s kneecaps and keep them a little cleaner with a kneeler. It’s a soft foam pad that cushions their knees instead of letting it rest on the hard ground.
There can be some sharp things in the ground or your backyard. Protect your little one’s hands with bright and colorful gloves they’ll want to wear.
If your garden is living on your windowsill, you probably won’t need a big steel shovel, but you can get a small one the size of your kid’s hand. One day, you may even need a big one to transfer your growing plant into the backyard. The real goal is to build a harvester experience for your child because what’s a farmer without their shovel?
Instead of burrowing small holes for the seeds with their little fingers, the rake does the job for them. It also helps minimize the amount of contact your kid makes with the dirt. Be sure to get one that matches the rest of their gear.
Tips For Staying Engaged
Gardening requires a ton of patience — there’s just no instant gratification. What can you do to keep your kiddos interested between planting the seeds and eating the spoils? There are a few options.
Find Teachable Moments
How much do your kids really know about gardening and Earth science? As the weeks creep on, use your blossoming garden as a chance to explain things like pollination and photosynthesis. For older kids, plant some hydrangeas and study how the chemical additives can make the flowers change colors. You can even incorporate a history lesson by planting the “three sisters” and walking your child through the history and process of planting corn, beans, and squash in the same plot.
Buy The Cute Gear
While gardening with kids doesn’t have to require extra tools and gear, that doesn’t mean you have to ignore the super cute kid-sized and fun-colored gardening gear, either. If your kiddo starts to seem disconnected, consider if a fun new pair of gardening boots or tools might just reignite their interest. Amazon has very super cute options.
Play Some Games
Weed Eaters – Very few people love to weed, but it’s a necessary evil of gardening. Make it a contest to see who can pull the most weeds. It’ll go by so much faster and with so much more fun.
Snail & Slug Race – Similar to weeding, removing snails and slugs can also be beneficial. Your kiddo will probably have a little more fun with this game because, let’s face it, our children like disgusting things.
Water Fiiiight! – You have to water the garden anyway, right? Make it a little more fun by throwing on swimsuits and jumping around in the hose and sprinklers alongside the garden. It’ll be hard, but try to have patience if wild feet come down hard on precious plants.
Find Recipes For Your Picks
On rainy days or those long days where it feels like nothing fun is happening in the garden, look for ways to stay excited while inside. Maybe do a lesson on hydroponics. Or do the old colored water and celery experiment. Or, hear us out, meal plan. So, you have some giant bell peppers that will be ready to pick any day now and some oregano and rosemary that needs trimming tomorrow. Use one of the many recipe databases on the internet to find something you can make using those ingredients.
Not sure if your kiddo is ready for gardening, try an easier garden-type activity with them by setting up a composting station outside. Children love getting dirty and gross, and what’s grosser than old fruit and vegetable peelings, dirty leaves, and some worms? Yeah, nothing! Try it out and see if they can get into it.
Want to pass the time and give your kids the giggles at the same time? Try these gardening jokes out and they’ll think you’re a comedic genius with a green thumb.
I stood in my garden early yesterday morning wondering where the sun had gone…
Then it dawned on me.
I started growing some fungi in my garden, but it failed miserably.
I guess there is mushroom for improvement.
I have a bird feeder in the garden…
It also works as a cat feeder
How did the millionaire gardener get rich so quickly?
He was running a huge pansy scheme.
I used to make loads of money clearing leaves from gardens.
I was raking it in.
A friend dug a hole in the garden and filled it with water.
I think he meant well.