Kristina is a writer, volunteer, & parent of two energetic kids. In her spare time, she enjoys nature, trying new things, and lots of DIY.
Over the past nine years, my husband and I have taken a huge interest in learning how to grow and maintain a backyard garden (don't let me kid you though, sometimes the weeds take over!) When we were house hunting, our main priority was to find a home with a large backyard, so that we could start a garden. We were still newbies then, but knew we wanted to give it a try and learn all about it. Since then, we've planted fruit trees, strawberries, a nice-sized garden, and more. Through much trial and error, we've developed decent green thumbs! We've relied on advice from my grandpa, our parents, and a wonderful book about gardening in Iowa (kindly given to us by our next-door neighbor).
When we had kids, we knew we wanted to continue our garden, even though time wasn't in great supply. We had two kids 15 months apart and the garden did indeed get planted, but it was super neglected (weeds were knee-high during the infant years!) Now that the kids are a little older (two and three), it has become a bit easier to maintain the garden. We've also begun to introduce the kids to gardening, and they love it! Being outside, getting fresh air, and digging in the dirt? What's a kid not to love? Here are three easy ways to garden with children, plus alternatives if you don't have the yard space (or you don't want) a full backyard garden.
1. Plant Onions
Allowing children to help with planting truly shows them where their food comes from. My kids didn't help plant every seed, but they did help plant the onion sets. The onion sets are bigger than tiny seeds or delicate plants, so sets worked out well for their little hands. Although, as you can see from the above picture, my method of planting isn't quite the same as my three year old's method! We worked together to straighten his pile of onion sets into a nice straight row. My two year old didn't help with the planting, but he did enjoy digging in the dirt with his shovel!
Alternatives: Don't have (or want) a backyard garden? Try these options instead!
- Plant in containers. Kids can help plant tomatoes in extra large pots. Or try planting herbs in smaller pots, and keep them in a sunny windowsill. We've successfully grown basil inside, and it was great to have fresh herbs all winter long! Or plant flowers in small pots to put on a porch or balcony.
- Look around town for a community garden and rent a plot.
- Check for any local youth classes about gardening. My city offers a free outdoor class in the summer where kids get to plant seeds at a local park. They can then check on the plant's progress all summer long!
- There are also plant kits designed just for kids. They are compact, and kids get their own seeds and pot to plant and put in a window. Many have fun themes, like a unicorn garden, pizza garden, or a sunflower garden.
2. Play Watering Games
For my kids, this is their favorite part about gardening! Learning to water the plants teaches kids what the garden needs to thrive. I give each of my boys their own little bucket and they go back and forth between the garden and the rain barrel, over and over and over (and over and over). One day, they spent about twenty minutes just filling up their bucket and dumping it on the plants (use a small sand bucket and it's easy to carry). They also love trying the different settings on the hose. It gives them a sense of responsibility, and as a bonus, they get wet on a hot summer day! Every time they see me with a watering can, they immediately want to help. Just be careful that the kids don't step on the little seedlings that are sprouting. We lost a few onions and radishes when they got squashed by little feet!
Alternatives: if your plants are in outdoor containers, try letting your kids use the hose and sprayer on a gentle setting. Or fill up a watering can at an outdoor faucet. My kids have even filled up their toy squirter's and squirted water onto the plants. I don't mind this game, as long as they are gentle with the squirter's (broken plants are no fun). If you have indoor plants, your kids can fill up a small cup at the sink and carefully dump the water onto the plant. When my boys are at their grandparent's house, they like to help water the indoor plants with a small watering can.
3. Have Kids Help Harvest
This is the best part for me! I love seeing the plants grow throughout the summer, and finally being able to pick and eat them. As the plants get larger, my husband and I show our kids how the plants are progressing. They can see the flower buds forming, the strawberries and tomatoes turn from green to red, and the onions getting taller. When the fruits/vegetables are ripe, the kids help us harvest, and put them into buckets. My three year old thought the radishes were "so cool!" and wanted to carry them by hand into the house. They also picked the sweet peas...and the little green peas went right into their mouths!
Alternatives: Here are several more ways for kids to harvest vegetables without a backyard garden.
- Upside Down Planters. These hang-able planters are already filled with dirt and seeds. After they are hung up, the plant grows from the bottom of the bag, toward the ground. I haven't personally tried an upside down planter, but learned of them from a friend, who hung one on his apartment balcony. Success! It produced a very nice amount of cherry tomatoes. Kids could harvest tomatoes from an upside down planter just as easily as they could from a regular tomato plant. Or, you could make your own.
- Use an Aerogarden. This is a nifty countertop device that utilizes seed kits, lights, nutrients, and water to grow vegetables, flowers, or herbs. It's a bit pricier upfront, but you have the benefit of growing all year round! My husband and I were gifted an Aerogarden for our wedding four years ago, and have since grown basil and tomatoes with it. It's a nice way to garden indoors, and produce a small crop of fresh veggies during an Iowa winter.
- Visit a local U-Pick farm. What fun it is to visit a berry farm or a pumpkin patch. This is a fantastic opportunity to get outdoors with your family and harvest local produce.
Bonus tip: if you're feeling really ambitious, you can also teach your kids about composting, and how it helps the soil. My kids love throwing their banana peels right into the garden!
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That's it! These three simple ideas are a great way to introduce children to gardening; allow them to breathe in the fresh air, feel the warm summer breeze, and get a little (or a lot!) dirty at the same time. It also helps them feel like they are contributing to the family. My older son gets so excited and proud when he sees the plants get bigger and the fruits/veggies ripe enough to eat. He tells me "I'll go check the strawberries!" He brought back a green strawberry last time, but that's ok! He is trying, and wants to learn more.
If you're looking for a fun and rewarding summer activity with your children, I encourage you to give gardening a try. The skills they will learn will be beneficial for years to come. Plus, the memories will stick with them for a lifetime!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Kristina Bouxsein-Hearn
Kristina Bouxsein-Hearn (author) from Iowa on June 05, 2017:
Thank you Dora! I appreciate your comment!
Kristina Bouxsein-Hearn (author) from Iowa on June 01, 2017:
Oh they do put on a great show, don't they? So fun to watch the tall plants grow! You're so right, it's great to see the excitement on the kids faces, as they see the plants progress. Thank you for the comment!
Kristina Bouxsein-Hearn (author) from Iowa on June 01, 2017:
How awesome! What great life skills you and your wife are teaching. I like that you have the children use the herbs in the cooking activities too. Thanks for sharing, and for the comment!
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 01, 2017:
Gardening with your kids is a very worthwhile project that you and your husband engage in. Congratulations and hope that other families will imitate your effort. Thanks for sharing.
Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on June 01, 2017:
What wonderful ideas! When our girls were very little we had a vegetable garden. They were so excited when the seeds they planted started to pop up out of the ground. The corn and sunflowers didn't produce very well, but those plants were taller than our daughters (and me) and so put on quite a show.
JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on May 31, 2017:
My wife and I operate a school in Agape Springs, Cavite, Philippines. Part of our curriculum is stewardship of the environment. This means a lot of planting activities. we've noticed that children enjoy it when they are part of every stage from planting to harvesting. They become responsible for their own plants/herbs. We even use the herbs they planted for our cooking activities.