Gardening with your kids is a wonderful way to spend time together, get outside in nature and even get some exercise. It can truly serve to strengthen your relationship with your children and could even lower your grocery bills. Not to mention, planting and gardening are also valuable life skills that children can take with them long into their adult years.
Here are some tips to help ensure a fun experience for everyone as you start a family garden in your backyard.
Importance of Gardening With Kids: Potential Benefits
- Better your family‘s eating habits. Your kids will be absolutely be more enthusiastic about eating fruits and vegetables that they‘ve grown themselves in their very own backyard. The anticipation alone that will build from the moment a seed is planted until the fruit or vegetable is ready to be eaten will make kids want to try new foods. And these healthier food options will in turn improve the overall health (physical and mental) of your family.
- Learn to be more environmentally conscious. Technology is king these days and it tends to keep children indoors so much of the time; however, getting outside, getting their hands dirty even, by actually working in the dirt with plants and insects is an invaluable reminder of our dependence on nature.
- Foster a sense of gratitude. As adults, we often forget how much effort goes into producing the food we eat when we simply buy it at the grocery store or order it at restaurants. How much more are our kids’ views skewed if they are never exposed to the hard work that goes into growing food? Even a simple family garden can greatly impact our appreciation for the food we eat.
- Become more physically active. Sedentary lifestyles are increasingly common today and they put kids at serious risk for becoming overweight, and then developing all of the accompanying health problems that go hand in hand with obesity. Gardening is a great way to increase your daily activity level by simply getting your body moving. And don’t forget: some gardening tasks require a little bit of muscle, like moving wheelbarrows, carrying heavy watering cans, etc.
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Gardening With Younger Kids: Preschoolers and Early Elementary Kids
- Allow your kids to take ownership. Of course young children will need lots of guidance but it’s important to find ways to let them take a leadership role in the family garden. They will not be able to accomplish every gardening task on their own, but they can help with things like helping pick which plants your family will grow. Also, try to observe which tasks they seem to enjoy more and allow them to focus on those aspects of the garden. And as with anything in life, lots of praise and positive reinforcement will go miles with little ones!
- Keep it simple. It’s always a good idea to keep gardening with young children as simple as possible, by breaking down different gardening tasks into smaller steps to make it easier for your child to understand and accomplish. Another good idea is to select plants that are typically easier to grow, such as bean plants. Most beans are hearty and seem to thrive even with very little care. Plus, they have nutritional “superpowers” for your family diet. Bean seeds tend to be bigger as well, making them much easier for little fingers to handle.
- Provide instant gratification. We’re all motivated by instant gratification, regardless of our age, right?! Selecting a few plants that grow super quickly is a great way to keep younger children motivated and involved. Radishes are a good example- they are usually ready to pick in less than three weeks. Plant some smaller lettuce plants, alongside bigger ones and you‘ll have the ingredients for a yummy weeknight salad ready in no time.
- Make it educational. Gardening provides so many educational opportunities- you can teach the science of photosynthesis, or fertilization and soil composition, or even weather. And you could go the math route with measuring how much you water each day or even to track plant growth. Use your family garden to teach your little ones about responsibility as well.
- Play it safe. Be sure to avoid chemicals that could be harmful to children, as well as keeping sharp tools put away or up high while working in the garden with your little ones. Young children are also known for putting everything in their mouth (both food and non-food objects). It would be a good idea to have your soil tested for lead if gardening in your backyard soil in urban areas, as kids are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. This is less of an issue with container gardening, or raised-bed gardening as you will have more information on the soil you choose.
- Have fun. The sky is the limit when selecting which types of seeds to plant- it’s totally okay to plant a few unusual items if it helps build your children’s enthusiasm for gardening. Starting and tending a family garden should be a source of stress relief- don’t let it become the opposite. If young kids seem at their saturation point, be sure to give them breaks so they will stay excited about gardening
Gardening with Older Kids: Tweens and Teens
- Let tweens and teens take the lead. Often, older elementary school, middle school and even high school students can be much more fun to listen to and learn from for younger kids than Mom and Dad. They make great role models and teachers for smaller children. And typically as much as the younger children love this attention from the “big kids,” this is a great leadership opportunity for your older children.
- Challenge older kids to set new goals (if they have gardened before). Gardening will likely become a lifelong skill and hobby for many children who have the benefit of early exposure. Keep your tweens and teens motivated by helping them set new goals for themselves and even learn new skills and/or aspects of gardening.
- Be super encouraging with newbie gardeners. Let’s be honest, your tweens and teens may seem very disinterested in your new family garden at the onset, especially is this is new to them. Remember, you’re competing with friends, social media, Netflix and all other forms of technology that are so readily available today. But with consistent encouragement and attention from you, your older kids just may come to find a love for gardening that they can carry into adulthood.
* Additional Tip: Start with easy to grow seeds to ensure success. Grab your free printable guide for easy to grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
A terrific idea that can help to get the whole family excited about your new family garden is investing in a handful of gardening books. These may be silly stories for younger children or even hands-on guides and informational texts for tweens and teens. Have a look at this curated list of gardening books for kids to see if any could be a good resource for your family garden:
Gardening Books for Kids
The Vegetable Song
On a sillier note, here is the video for the super popular vegetable song that will teach your children a TON of information about vegeatables from A-Z!
With all of these benefits listed, the importance and value of gardening is clear. Now get out there today and start that family garden you’ve been dreaming about!
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