With kids at home, harness a bit of their energy (and your own) by enticing them to help in the garden! Nature has not been canceled and there are lots of opportunities for hands-on learning experiences outside. Here are some ideas on what to plant in a garden for kids—and other fun activities.
Get Kids Into the Garden
As of this writing, one in three Americans are under orders to stay home and most schools are closed. This means that many students are at home engaging in distance learning via computer, but after their schoolwork is done, kids need time to cut loose and burn off some steam. Your garden can serve as an outdoor classroom for showing your kids how and where we get our food while connecting them to nature and the environment. Even the littlest ones love to learn about dirt, plants, and bugs.
Start Seeds Indoors or Out
Spring is the prime time for starting seeds, and getting outdoors and messy is important! Or, start some seeds indoors if it is too early for planting outside in your location.
The smaller the kids, the larger the seeds should be—so they are big enough for small fingers to handle. Here are some good seeds to plant:
These plants will germinate and grow quickly, which makes them interesting subject for any kid (or adult) to watch! Measure and track plant growth under different light and watering conditions. The plants might not survive until you can get them into the garden, but it is always exciting to see them germinate and start to grow nonetheless.
Creating a Small Garden
To ensure a successful gardening experience with your child, start small. The best way to kill any interest in gardening is to make it seem like an overwhelming chore.
A sandbox-sized plot is perfect for the younger set. Give them their own sturdy, child-sized tools, and expect them to get wet and dirty.
Set them up for success by making small raised beds that are easy for them to reach into but which keep them from climbing in and walking on the plants.
Let them outline the borders with rocks and define the paths with stepping stones or mulch so they know what is garden and what is not.
Have them create plant tags, using pictures for non-readers.
I learned a long time ago not to let a little one loose with a hose, so give them a pint sized watering can to use. Teach them about mulch by letting them spread grass clippings around their plants. Remember to keep it organic; kids and chemicals don’t mix!
Plants for a Kids’ Garden
What can you plant in a garden for kids? Steer them toward large-seeded or fast growing plants like:
But also let them decide what to grow. (What do they like to eat?) For your sanity keep the number of choices age-appropriate. Usually, the younger the kids are, the shorter the attention spans.
See the Almanac’s Vegetable Growing Guides to get started.
Garden Projects for Older Kids
Older kids might enjoy planning a theme garden like a pizza garden, salsa garden, or one with rainbow-colored vegetables.
Picky eaters will often try a new vegetable if they have grown it themselves.
Have them read the instructions on the seed packets and figure out when, how deep, and how far apart to plant the seeds. The more involved they are, the more committed they are likely to be.
Don’t worry about perfection; gardening is a learn-as-you-go, trial and error thing, with experience being the best teacher.
If they are responsible for watering and weeding, they will soon learn that a neglected garden doesn’t produce much but if they harvest a bumper crop, they will take great pride in their achievements.
There are lots of fun things in the garden to share with the kids. Point out and identify bugs, explaining which are the good guys and which are the bad guys. Let them personalize their pumpkins by scratching their names on the skin of the young fruits and then watching their names grow as the pumpkins mature.
Build a green teepee from pole beans or see how to plant a sunflower house!
Watching a 10 foot tall sunflower grow from a seed is a magical experience and it illustrates that the garden gives back more than the gardener puts into it.
Build bat and bird houses, make a sundial, assemble a weather station and use it to keep track of the weather in your backyard, start a compost pile, tap some maple trees and try your hand at making syrup, and don’t forget to make some mudpies.
Share your enthusiasm! If you make it seem like drudgery they will not be interested. Remember, you are planting a seed that with a little guidance and encouragement can grow into a budding gardener—and don’t forget the wheelbarrow rides!
Stay safe and be well!
For families at home, The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids has posted a bunch of cool projects and activities here!