Whether you will be starting your plants from seeds or purchasing transplants from a greenhouse, it is exciting to start planting!
Young children will likely be eager to help, but may not have the patience to plant in orderly rows or may make the mistake of pulling a sprout (or full plant) instead of a weed. A well-intentioned time set aside together can turn to frustration when expectations are set to high. It is best to keep things fun and simple.
Set aside a space for children to play and explore. Carve out some space in your garden area just for your child. This can be in your garden space or nearby – within eyesight and range for conversation. Your child may want to play in some dirt, look for insects and worms, or just play outdoors. Do not be too discouraged if your child is not directly involved. They are learning through play and watching your example and will often be drawn into the process at different stages of the experience.
Create spaces for imaginative play. Allowing children to create and tend spaces that invite opportunity for imaginative play is a fun and easy complement to any family garden.
- Build a Fairy House Fairy houses can take many forms, they can be made under a tree, in a corner of your garden or in a container that can be displayed either indoors or out. You can work with your child to build miniature homes out of natural items like pebbles, mosses, acorns, twigs, and leaves. These creative spaces can be made for welcome visits from fairies, gnomes, insects, toads or whatever your child can imagine. Older children can take the lead and work to create more elaborate arrangements and these spaces can be a great outlet for creative expression. Many retail stores offer manufactured complements to a fairy house creation that can add some special details, but emphasizing creativity and using natural materials and found items is a wonderful way to connect artistic expression with nature.
- Make a Garden Fort. Helping children gather natural building blocks to make an outdoor fort can create opportunity for unstructured play in natural surroundings. When building a fort outside, younger children may be inspired if they have some help with sticks, branches, or garden poles set together in a foundational structure. You can help your child make fort-style play spaces right in your garden by making a bean pole tipi and planting climbing string beans or by making a sunflower fort by planting a circular or rectangular plot of towering sunflowers, such as the Mammoth variety. You can be creative with your garden fort by adding flowers, corn plants, or even pumpkin or squash varieties to enhance the definition of the space. Your child is sure to share in the excitement as the structure takes shape.
Invite children to share in the experiences of tending the family garden.
- Whether ordering seeds from a catalog or purchasing plants from a greenhouse; tending a large garden or a couple of containers, letting your child make some choices in regards to what is being planted will allow your child to take ownership of their role in your family garden. You may want to set aside a special corner in your garden for your child’s favorites or simply add a namesake to a garden variety; for example in our family we have had Zoe’s Zinnias, Otto’s cherry tomatoes, Wyatt’s cucumbers, and Mama’s herb garden to name a few. My son Otto has developed quite the positive relationship and taste for tomatoes encouraged by his ownership with cherry tomato plants in our garden that has stuck with him for many seasons of our family garden.
- Share some garden tools with your child that he or she can manage safely, or seek out a child-sized, shovel, rake, watering can, and/or wheelbarrow.
- Let your child help you cut the grass! With some direction and guidance young children can work to develop the skill of cutting with scissors outdoors. Identifying an area for your child to to clip and trim can be a very appropriate and engaging way for your child to develop this skill. Just keep a close eye on what they are choosing to cut, it seems to be a rite of passage for young children to make some undesirable snips when learning to use scissors!
- Make some mud pies! Young children especially love to be part of the process of watering the garden, but a toddler with a garden hose is not always conducive to productive watering. Encourage safe and engaging water play parallel to your garden by setting up a simple sensory tub. Let your child play with some dirt and make some mud. Repurposing simple plastic containers, such as yogurt cups, a dish soap bottle, or a spray bottle can be fascinate a young child in the process of experiential outdoor play.
- Set up a sprinkler and encourage your child to run through. This experience is a wonderful simple pleasure of childhood, maybe take a run through yourself!
- Making plant markers is a great project to do with your child. Plant markers can be simple, or elaborate and can be created in many forms. Plant markers for outdoor gardens need to be weather resistant and should be made to last throughout the growing season. Here are some materials you may want to consider to make plant markers for your family garden: popsicle sticks, wood scraps, twigs, wooden stakes, bamboo skewers, plastic lids or containers, wooden spoons, chopsticks, smooth stones, rocks, cans, bricks, overturned bottles, polymer clay, duck tape, forks, paint stir sticks, wooden shims, corks, coat hanger, clear packing tape.
- Start some seeds indoors, even if you are planning on purchasing transplants, planting some seeds indoors is fun and exciting for both children and adults. You can use a seed starting kit or use potting soil and simple paper cups or small containers with holes in the bottom for drainage. This process will help children to experience the connection between a seed and a plant and will build interest in gardening outdoors.
- Celebrate the Harvest! Harvest time is the most exciting and rewarding time of the season of a family garden. As different fruits and vegetables ripen, teach your child to understand when they are ready to be harvested. Promote taste testing, and let your children experience the freshness of a garden carrot, snap pea, tomato, or strawberry that they were a part of growing. Take pleasure in gathering your harvest and enjoying the results of your efforts.