Special thanks to Julie Tiefenthaler for this guest article!
Gardening with children is easy, joyful and very rewarding. As soon a child is able to walk, they can begin to garden.
The following are some tips to get you started. Your first investment should probably be a sand pail, tools and watering can. This will be all you need to entertain your toddler for hours. You can peacefully work in your garden while your child helps water everything and anything, and since they love being helpers and doing anything with water, it’s a match made in heaven.
As you are doing your garden work, identify every plant you see for your child. They will learn the language of plants like a second language. If you need some help with plant identification then ask your garden loving neighbors for help - or use a plant identification site like this one.
Point out the birds, the butterflies, and anything else that walks, crawls, or flies through your garden. It’s important that children learn early that we are the protectors of our environment.
When they are little it is easy to encourage them to treat everything with kindness just by showing them the unique abilities of every creature and impress upon them while doing so of how we are all interconnected and dependent on each other.
Many of the insects that inhabit our gardens are actually called beneficials. Things like lady bugs, honey bees, ants and even worms do wonderful things for your garden. Children naturally like tiny things so put aside your personal feelings and get to know the bugs along with your child. You could plant your garden specifically to encourage wildlife - work with your child in gardening for nature or gardening for bees. Encouraging butterflies is also a wonderful thing to do - and helps your child appreciate how beautiful they are. Plant flowers to create butterfly gardens - and then why not try your hand at raising butterflies!
If you have the space let your child have their own garden plot.
Vegetable seeds germinate quickly and easily. Children will not only be learning about plants but perhaps they’ll also learn to appreciate their veggies more. Anything that you grow yourself is naturally more delicious!
Potatoes make a great crop to sow with kids as they are so fast growing. If you don't have a large enough plot, then you can easily grow them in containers.
In even a small space children can grow lettuce, radish and spinach plants. 'Cut and come again' lettuce varieties mean you child will be able to get several harvests out of a plant.
Older children can help weed and harvest. Having jobs and ownership of the garden helps to develop responsibility and pride in their accomplishments. If you can find a child sized wheelbarrow, then they are usually very happy to busy themselves tidying up or helping you harvest.
Children can also be responsible for cleaning or filling the bird feeders, or making compost as they get a little older.
Gardening with children is an investment in their future. They are connecting to nature, learning about healthy food, and hopefully will become the new guardians of our Earth someday.