My Nan patiently showed me how to use the cultivator to create a long furrow in the ground where I would plant my seeds. First sprinkle in the fertilizer, then the seeds. Careful! Spread them out so they have room to grow. Then cover and pat down the soil on top. Water, and you’re done.
Well, until it’s time to thin out the growing plants. And weed. And water again. And check for pests. And so on.
I started gardening with my grandmother when I was a toddler. She loved to involve me and my brother, though she was careful to give each of us our own area to plant. She was a bit of a perfectionist, and it wouldn’t do to have us mess up the half acre of crops we were actually planning to eat over the winter! We each had a space for vegetables, and another for flowers. We learned about transplanting, how to identify weeds, how much fertilizer to use, and more. It was a great lesson to learn where our food comes from. Actually, I think I was in school before I realised most people bought their potatoes at the store! Who knew!
These days I try to involve Boo in the garden as much as possible, and he does enjoy helping out and watching our plants grow. But it’s not always easy to drag him away from his Lego and his games. Here are a few tips and ideas that I’ve found work well to engage kids in the garden.
1. Let them choose the plants. Vegetable garden? Ask what your child would like to grow, with the knowledge they’ll be able to eat it later. Flowers? Do they have a favourite colour they’d like to enjoy in the garden? By letting them make these decisions, they’ll be more inclined to get involved in the planting and care of the plants. For instance, Boo really wanted to plant milkweed in our garden, to encourage monarch butterflies and aid in their conservation. So we did that this weekend, and he was 100% engaged in the process and super excited to see how they do.
2. Set them up for success. Some plants are easier to grow than others. Nan set us up with radishes and leaf lettuce because they were fairly foolproof, meaning we would have a high chance of actually getting an edible harvest. Success is encouraging and much more likely to lead to a continued love of gardening. I planted asparagus this year, but I’d never suggest this for a child, as you have to wait at least two years before you can begin to harvest. A crop like peas or beans will show quick results that will be much more satisfying for a child.
3. Tap into their interests. There are lots of different pieces to gardening – digging in the dirt, choosing plants, watering, weeding. Boo loves to draw and is proud of his writing as well. So, last year I got him to make the row markers for our veggie patch.
4. Put them in charge. As my grandmother did for us, give them their own little plot of land or a special container for their chosen plants. Give them full responsibility. Let them do the work and feel the full pride of a job well done.
5. Let them get wet. If nothing else, what kid doesn’t love water play? Give your child special responsibility for watering the garden. Let them play with the hose while they’re at it. Be sure to give lots of praise.
Do you garden with your kids or grandkids? What are some of their favourite garden tasks? Do you have any tips to share to help keep them engaged?