Planning a garden this summer? Try giving your children a space of their own. Yes, they will ruin it - you probably won't get any fruits. But they will learn, work and enjoy.
Anne Lammot, for whom I have Beatles-style mania, said the following about failure and disaster: "What people somehow (inadvertently, I'm sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here…"
So perhaps you have visions of neat rows of developing carrots, bright bushes of beans, and maybe a few majestic sunflowers rising from a child's plot. Let it go. Just give them the dirt and walk away.
You will have enough to do in your own garden keeping them from pulling up the leek seedlings, picking the green tomatoes, and climbing the pea trellises. With a space of their own, you can redirect them to a different patch of garden where they can do their own important, messy work.
1. Give them a plot.
If you like things orderly and defined, give them a raised bed. You can define a space with tires or half-barrels, a plastic tub with holes drilled in it. You can even do a series of clay pots. If you have the space, though, the greatest mess (and therefore the greatest learning and self-actualization) will come from a section of dirt on the ground.
On the ground, they can walk barefoot in the soil, lay down and sing to their seedlings, and sit among whatever has managed to grow. They can haul pieces of wood, stone, fabric, and edging into the area to make it their own.
In a raised bed, they will inevitably end up in it. If it's within your guidelines, that's ok, too. You can always create a short, narrow (maybe 1-2 ft wide, 1 ft tall) bed that discourages climbing in and isn't hard to reach.
2. Give them little tools.
A small shovel, at least. No plastic. That's like trying to learn to play the piano on a plastic keyboard with seven keys.
3. Give them seeds.
You can go cheap-because approximately 1% of them will amount to anything. This is definitely what we would do if seed companies didn't cover their seeds with poison stuff. We just spring the extra dollar or so for packs from organic or natural producers we trust. Then if they put pea seeds in their mouths and roll them around on their tongues, no worries.
Big seeds are best because they can see and handle them without the frustration of losing them or dumping them all in one place. Peas, beans, sunflowers, corn.
Related: Ten Plants that Will Enchant Children
4. Give them a little instruction.
My children will do anything for a packet of seeds. We dole them out and do a few together. Poke a hole, drop it in, cover it up, pat and say "night night." We talk to our little seeds, encourage them to grow strong.
Then we talk about how they like to be wet but not swimming. We review how to fill and pour the watering can, talk about how the plants like rain best, and discuss the limits and boundaries regarding water and dirt. Every year.
Related: Why I Let My Kids Play Barefoot
5. Give them room to create.
There's a very wide variety in the definition of garden, even for adults. For kids, it may be mostly a place to make mud pies, pile rocks, or create fairy houses. They may pick flowers from your garden and set them on the dirt in their garden. Anything they find to be interesting, from any part of the yard or house, can be placed in the garden. They think of this as work, and a valid use of the space.
Depending on the age and personality of your children, a kids-only garden can turn out to be a big mess or a small cornucopia of fresh produce. Either way, it will be a success.
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