The idea of gardening with children often conjures up idyllic daydreams of your kids clad in fresh cotton dresses and loose T-shirts, enjoying warm sunshine and cold lemonade while admiring the beautiful, bright daisies you’ve just planted. Or it induces utter panic and horror when you imagine the idea of free access to endless amounts of dirt and water and a carpet cleaning bill longer than your arm. The reality is somewhere in the middle, thank goodness, which means you and your kids can enjoy the amazing health benefits of gardening.
Studies have linked regular gardening to increased mental and physical well-being, including elevated and stabilized moods, decreased inflammation, reduced stress levels and a stronger immune system.
While some kids get excited about the idea of getting their hands deep in the soil, others recoil at the thought of encountering the creepy crawlers that lie beneath. Fear not, though, because gardening with kids is easier than you think. Here are three approaches to getting them involved:
1. Get in green mode
First take your kids shopping to pick out their own gloves, tools and gardening hat (while fashion isn’t a necessity for gardening sun protection is, so don’t forget the hat and some kid-safe sunblock). Once they’re all decked out move on to what you’ll be growing.
Keep choices narrow – flowers or food. There are many foods that you can grow even in small spaces like cherry tomatoes or strawberries. Even indoors you can grow herbs like mint and basil. If flowers are what you fancy, go with the hearty varieties if you’re new to gardening to ensure a more successful gardening experience for everyone. If they pick the plants, they'll care more if they survive.
You’ll also need to decide if you want to start with seeds or starter plants. Younger kids can really benefit from learning the process of growing from seeds. Sprouting seeds is endlessly fascinating and really easy. It gives you the opportunity to embrace the homeschool vibe and create charts to show what each stage is. For older kids tracking what seasons are best for planting which foods helps them realize how much of our food is imported and why and a chance to learn more about eating what’s in season as a step toward sustainability.
2. To each their own
Give each of your kids their own section of the garden or a few of their own growing containers. This gives them the opportunity to invest in what they’re growing, letting it be their responsibility to succeed. No space outside? No problem. Keep it small but spicy by using mason jars on a counter top or window sill to grow an indoor herb garden.
Sometimes with older kids, like teenagers, it helps to have a spaced removed from home. Look around to see if there are community gardens in your area. If you can’t get a plot of your own, ask around and see if anyone needs help maintaining theirs. Your teens will be getting out of the house and might even be able to earn community service credits while reaping the benefits of getting their hands good and dirty…or at least from being outside inn the fresh air for a couple hours a week.
If your kids are older and competitive, make it a contest to see whose plant grows more tomatoes or which rosemary grows tallest. If the sibling rival runs deep, skip the competitive aspect and let them do their own thing. For little ones, keep it sweet and simple. Help them design a gardening journal. They can draw pictures or take photos to document their progress. Encourage them to share their journal with friends and family to keep them interested and engaged in what they’re growing.
3. Greenhouse gang
More and more schools are moving beyond sprouting beans in paper cups and giving students the opportunity to experience real gardening first hand (pun totally intended). Regardless of the age of your kids, its a lot more fun to do something if their friends are involved than just if mom is telling them to do it.
Volunteer with your school’s gardening club and get your whole family involved. If there isn’t a club, consider starting one. If you’re worried about funding, there are many grants out there to help cover the costs, companies that will donate supplies, and parents that will help in any way they can. Don’t miss the chance to show your kids that lettuce doesn’t grow wrapped in a plastic bag and where peas are found before they get closed up in a can.