By RogueValleyMagazine.com Gardening Correspondent Christina Conway, Owner of Eugene
Children can learn new skills, have fun, play, and develop self-confidence by spending time in the garden tending plants and growing their own food. Most children enjoy being outdoors and love digging in the soil, getting dirty, creating things, and watching plants grow.
Children learn from growing things. People of all ages can enjoy gardening, but children, in particular, will have lots of fun and gain special benefits. Gardening is educational and develops new skills including:
Responsibility – learned by caring for plants
Understanding – gained as they learn about cause and effect (for example, plants die without water, weeds compete with plants)
Self-confidence – gained by achieving their goals and enjoying the food they have grown
Love of nature – through a chance to learn about the outdoor environment in a safe and pleasant place
Reasoning and discovery – learning about the science of plants, animals, weather, the environment, nutrition, and simple construction
Physical activity – doing something fun and productive where they can see the result of all they do
Cooperation – including shared play activity and teamwork
Creativity – finding new and exciting ways to grow food
Nutrition – learning about where fresh food comes from.
Getting children interested in gardening
Some suggestions to get children involved and interested in creating a garden include:
Keep it simple.
Give children their own garden space. (This does not have to be big. You can start with a large container or a few pots.)
Involve older children in the planning and design of the garden.
Use lightweight, easy-to-handle, correct-sized tools, and garden equipment.
Encourage children to dig in the dirt. (Younger children love making mud pies)
Grow interesting plants such as sunflowers, corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, and strawberries.
Use a trellis or teepee to grow beans or sweet peas, in a location where the kids can get inside and make it a living play fort, watching the beans or peas wind upward on the poles.
Plant flowers that attract butterflies, ladybugs, and other interesting insects or birds.
Make a scarecrow.
Install a water feature, a birdbath, or a sundial.
Set up a worm farm.
Visit community gardens, children’s farms, or botanic gardens as a family to find new ideas.
Child safety in the garden
To make the garden safe for children:
Select the correct-sized tools.
Keep sprays and fertilizers out of reach.
Do not use chemicals. Garden organically whenever possible.
Provide safe storage for equipment and tools where children cannot get to them.
Secure fences and gates.
Provide shade in summer with umbrellas or shade cloth.
Make sure that where it is appropriate, children wear a hat, sunscreen, suitable clothing, and muck boots.
Do not leave buckets of water unattended around very young children and toddlers.
Plant selection for children
Children like large, brightly colored flowers and vegetables that grow quickly. Plants such as sunflowers, corn, and pumpkins are good examples. You should also consider using varieties of plants that have sensory and textural qualities as well. Examples of great sensory plants include:
Touch – woolly lamb’s ear, succulents (such as aloe vera), bottlebrush species, snapdragons
Taste – basil, strawberries, peas, rosemary, carrots, cherry tomatoes
Smell – jasmine, sweet peas, lavender, pelargoniums, native mint bush, lemon balm
Bright color – daffodils, rainbow chard, marigolds, pansies, sunflowers
Sound – corn, bamboo and grasses rustle against each other when the wind blows.
Different-aged children in the garden
Toddlers, preschoolers, primary-school-aged, and older children will all have different expectations and will learn different things in the garden. Younger children will require careful supervision during activities. Suitable tasks for younger children include watering plants, harvesting produce, and planting seeds. Older children are physically capable of handling a greater variety of activities like digging, carrying, planting, mulching, and pruning.
Activities for a child in the garden
Choose activities that suit the child’s age. Suggestions include:
Watering the garden
Planting vegetables, fruits, and flowers in the correct season
Feeding the worms and using the ‘worm tea’ from the worm farm as fertilizer
Picking vegetables and fruits when they are ready to eat
Preparing healthy food, such as making salads and preparing school lunches
Craft activities using harvested seeds, plants and flowers
Composting, recycling, and mulching
Gathering seeds and dried flowers
Preparing the soil with organic fertilizer
Replanting and re-potting.
Things to remember
Gardening is a healthy, fun activity for children. Children develop new skills and learn about science and nature from growing their own food. There is a variety of interesting activities children can be involved in, such as planting, mulching, weeding, and cooking. Make sure that your garden is a safe place, with suitable equipment, tools, fences, gates, and paths for children to use.
Need more help to get started creating a garden for your children? Eugene Garden Design can help you create an outdoor space that is perfect for you to enjoy with your kids! Talk with Eugene Garden Design about safe pathways, raised planter boxes in bright colors, native plant gardens to attract butterflies, and more of the things you can enjoy in your backyard while your children are young.