Ultimate Beginners Guide To Gardening With Kids
Is there anything better than the feeling of seeing your sweat and hard work pay off?
Few hobbies in life offer such delicious rewards for time and effort as gardening does. As enjoyable as the yummy rewards are, gardening is also one of those activities that provides so much more than a snack.
Gardening is an excellent activity for anyone. Adults find peace, relaxation, and food, but children take significantly more from the work than adults do.
Why should you garden with kids?
If you are looking for a great hobby to share with your child or grandchild, consider gardening.
Here are a few reasons you will want to start gardening with your child:
Gardening with kids is an excellent opportunity to strengthen and build your relationship. Working together to create a flourishing garden will bring you together on every level.
Even if you are learning to garden for the first time yourself, learning to do something together with a child will strengthen your bond. By learning together, you can show your child how to work through the learning process and demonstrate excellent follow through.
Plus you will be spending hours together which will inevitably build a stronger bond between you and your child.
Gardening can be time-consuming, especially when starting out, and it will give you a great reason to spend much-needed quality time with your children.
If you are already an experienced gardener looking to mentor a little one, gardening will give you the opportunity to pass your knowledge on to the next generation. Check out GardenGirltv’s video on Gardening with Kids to see how Patti Moreno spends time with her daughter in the garden passing along her garden know-how.
You can tell from the video that Patti and her daughter have a good relationship and have been gardening together for a while. Doesn’t that sound nice?
Remember, the family that gardens together, stays together 🙂
Imagination & Creativity
There is so much that a child can gain from spending time in a garden tending the earth.
Kids see gardening as so much more than a means to a tasty end. They get to become a grower of things, a proud plant parent, a responsibility holder, and more. Gardening, for children, is an empowering task that is akin to them pretending to fight off a dragon to rescue a princess.
Instead of imagining their mortal foe, children can save their beloved plants from the destructive jaws of real plant-eating pests. It's a real-life battle that can leave them feeling like a true hero when their garden stays healthy and safe all season.
It's true that a child's imagination and creativity can take hold when they are allowed to create. But what is so compelling about their imagination and creativity in gardening, is that they get to see their creativity come to life. They can imagine growing a vast forest of plants that can feed their kingdom and that is precisely what happens. They facilitate the growth that will help put food on the family table.
Not only do kids get to take on these roles when gardening, but they also get an education.
There are so many educational opportunities in every aspect of gardening with a child that you will never run out of chances to help your child develop. From teaching them how much room each plant needs to grow to financial planning and budgeting when purchasing supplies.
The learning possibilities are endless!
If that isn’t incentive enough, maybe science will help you decided to start gardening with your child.
Many studies have been done that prove that gardening for children helps with their intellectual development, situational analysis, problem-solving, and more. Michigan State University did one such study that provided evidence for the many ways children benefit from gardening. Here is a layman's summary article of what MSU found.
Every parent wants to raise their child, so one day they can survive and prosper as independent people out in the world. One of the best ways to prepare a child for the real world is to teach them the importance of responsibility.
You don't want your child missing payments, showing up late to interviews, wrecking relationships, or forgetting to feed their dog because they don't feel responsible for their actions. Gardening is a great way to create a responsibility mindset.
When a child is gardening, they must learn to be responsible, or their garden will not survive.
There are so many responsibilities that a gardener must take on that translate to the real world. The responsibility of showing up every day to water the crops, taking the time to maintain the garden by removing weeds, and harvesting crops on time. There are plenty of opportunities for a child to learn to be responsible.
In summary, here are some reasons you should start gardening with your kid:
So, now that you’re ready to get started, here are some ideas to consider along the way.
Setting a Budget
One of the educational opportunities of gardening with your child is shopping for supplies.
By establishing a budget, you will be able to teach your child how to manage a specific amount of money. However, this educational method only works if you hold to the budget. If you take a kid shopping for garden supplies but do not set a numerical limit that they cannot exceed, they will not learn how to manage a budget.
As tempting as it is to exceed a budget, keep in mind that teaching your child or grandchild to be smart with money now will set them up for financial success later on in life.
To make shopping on a budget easier, spend some time with your children planning a shopping list and discussing the reason and necessity of every item. This will do more than create a shopping list; this is another learning/teaching opportunity.
Also, if you already own some of the items on your list, you can teach your child that they do not need brand new things to replace what you already have.
By creating a list and discussing the items, you will be teaching your child to prioritize necessary things over desired things. They will also start to learn the tools used in creating a garden.
The list goes on and on, but the beautiful thing about the gardening community is their ability be resourceful.
Here is a very informative video by Broken Ground discussing some helpful tips on how to garden on a budget.
Gardening can be a crazy expensive venture if you aren’t willing to reuse and be resourceful. As you could tell from the above video, there are many ways to save money when gardening.
The more simple methods of gardening on a budget is having a willingness to use what you already have. Hence the resourcefulness.
Besides tools, you likely already have access to most of what you will need to start a garden, and if you don't, there are much cheaper options out there than what the big-wig garden stores have to offer.
Here are some items besides tools that you can easily find a DIY budget solution for:
As Broken Ground says, investing in one pack of seeds is enough to last you a lifetime once you learn to harvest your own seeds from the crops. So, the budget for seeds will decrease and hopefully disappear altogether once you get your garden established.
Healthy soil makes growing plants much easier, but so often soil tests show that your soil needs certain chemicals (nitrogen is common) to create an ideal balance. You can do this naturally with composting and planting the right plants. Refer to the video for plant suggestions.
It’s easier for a plant to start growing in its own space, so planting pots are a great idea. However, you don't need to spend money on the more expensive containers when you could literally use a biodegradable eggshell or newspaper. Once your seed takes root, you can simply plant the seed and makeshift pot into the ground and go from there.
If you have a garden with more than one type of plant, you will want to label the rows. Instead of buying fancy label stakes, merely use Popsicle sticks and glue or staple the seed packet to the stick, then put the stick in the ground at the end of the row.
What Type of Garden Do You Want?
Deciding how you will set up your garden is a smart starting point for creating a garden with your child. Granted, if you already have an established garden, just work with what you already have.
If you don't have an established garden, the two most straightforward garden styles you can choose from are a raised or container garden or an in-ground garden. Both are styles that are great for beginners and children who are just starting out.
Raised or Container Garden
Raised gardens and container gardens are essentially the same thing; they are gardens that are contained, off the ground. Raised gardens have become more popular because they have many benefits, but they are quite costly.
Here are the pros and cons of investing in a raised garden:
As the name would suggest, in-ground gardens are gardens that are planted in the ground. These gardens take slightly less preparation as they do not need to be built like a raised garden. Though there are advantages to gardening using an in-ground garden, this method does have its downsides as well.
Here are the pros and cons of gardening in-ground:
Here is a video discussing the pros and cons of in-ground gardening versus raised or container gardening.
Deciding on a gardening style is another educational opportunity when working with a child.
You and your child can spend time discussing the pros and cons of each option before making a final decision. This will teach your child how to break down a choice in the future by weighing out the possibilities.
Gardening Tools of Choice
There are plenty of fun tools and supplies you can use in your garden.
This increasingly common hobby has caused the gardening tool industry to produce more and more products that are suited for children's use. Today's tool industry's willingness to make smaller tools that are appropriately manufactured for smaller people has facilitated the introduction of children to gardening.
Now that you know there are tons of tool and supply options out there for you and your little one, it's time to start planning your supply list.
If you aren't sure what should be on the list, here are some basics gardening tools you will want to get:
Gloves are great tools that do much more than keep you from getting dirty when gardening. This handy tool (pun intended) will protect you from getting a splinter or thorn in your fingers while you work. Make sure to get the right sized glove that will fit your and your child’s hand.
A trowel is essentially a handheld shovel. This nifty little gadget is great for digging smaller holes or fighting off pesky weeds. Trowels are great for taking care of smaller jobs that don't necessarily need a full-sized shovel to get done.
There are many styles of shovel out there, but few genuinely durable shovels are made for children. A shovel is one of the tools that will likely require an adult's strength to work with. Though a smaller child may not be able to work a full-sized shovel alone, you can still teach a child how to use this tool.
Hand Rake & Full Sized Rake
Like the trowel, a hand rake is essentially a miniaturized version of a rake. This tool allows you to loosen the soil to not only allow your freshly planted seeds room to breathe but to make it easier to dig the holes.
A full-sized rake is also tricky for a child to use but not impossible. Rakes will help you and your child clean up the area where you plan to plant your garden.
This tool is clearly more useful after your plants have grown and need to be maintained. Like many other tools, shears have also been made for children. However, there is a safety hazard that comes with allowing a child to use these, so make sure you are explicitly instructing them on how to use it and keeping a close watch while they do.
When you're first starting a garden, you will likely need to be transporting soil both in and out of the garden lot. Having a wheelbarrow provides you with an easy method of soil transport. Plus, the industry does make smaller wheelbarrows for children that are decently durable.
Hose & Nozzle
As we all know, plants need water to grow and survive. A hose is a wise investment, and a nozzle will help you regulate water pressure on your plants. However, if you are on a budget, you can find other ways to get water to your plants.
If you have finally decided to start gardening with your child, you will need to invest in some new tools that are right for them. Luckily, the gardening industry has done very well at adjusting to the increased amount of young gardeners and have made strong tools for smaller hands.
Though finding tools that fit both you and your child is simpler than it used to be, it can be challenging to decide which tools you should get.
I would suggest starting out by getting a gardening kit. Gardening kits come with all of the essentials any gardener would want in their arsenal all in one purchase.
Types of Seeds to Plant
Selecting what seeds you want to plant can be as simple as listening to your taste buds, but let's face it, we're talking mostly fruits and veggies here. Considering most kids aren't too keen on healthy eating, you have to come up with a more exciting way to get your child interested in seed types. For some creative ideas on what to make with the veggies your kids grow, check out Dr. Yum Recipes.
A simple way of getting your child excited to start gardening with certain seeds is to plan what you are going to grow. Creating a themed garden may help get your child interested and invested in the process and outcome of the garden.
For example, you could create a pizza garden. Discuss with your child the potential veggies and herbs that could go on a pizza.
You could also plan a salad garden and plant the following:
Or if you think you want to grow larger plants, think about seeds like this:
Kids love to eat! As parents, we like to see our children eating healthy foods that will help them become healthy adults. So, when deciding on what seeds to get for your garden, think about some creative snack ideas and plant for that snack. There are countless healthy options when it comes to gardening, so you really can't go wrong.
Here’s a helpful list of 10 of the easier vegetable you can grow in your garden: https://www.almanac.com/content/10-easy-vegetables-grow-seed.
There are many purchasing options for seeds on the market, but purchasing seed variety packs either in person or online, will save you money.
One trick to keeping your child interested in the gardening process is to get seeds that don't take all season to produce. Some plants grow very slowly, while others shoot right up. If you know your child loses interest in activities quickly, think about investing fast growing seeds.
Here's a list of fast-growing seeds:
- Baby carrots
- Bush beans
- Summer Squash
Type of Soil
Some garden soils are rockier than others and will need to be supplemented with purchased soil or soil from another area. If you take a handful of dirt and it is gritty and hard, dense with clay, or extremely dry, then your soil isn't well suited to grow plants.
The above mentioned poor soil types can be fixed with a bit of time, effort, and organic matter. Ideally, you want your soil to be practically black and hold just the right amount of moisture. When you press healthy soil in your hands, you can feel the difference.
Giving soil what it needs to be healthy will make your gardening life significantly easier.
Healthy soil is one of the most critical aspects of cultivating a prosperous and healthy garden. If your soil is in good shape, you will not need as much fertilizer or pesticide because the earth will be providing your garden what it needs.
Healthy soil leads to healthy plants which are healthier for you and your family. So, how do you determine if your soil is healthy and if not, how can you fix it?
There are around 17+ essential soil elements, also called nutrients, that are important for productive plant growth, but there are some that are more important than others.
Here are the three primary elements or nutrients that are considered to have the most significant impact on garden success:
When you are looking for an effective fertilizer, you will want to find ones that are labeled "complete fertilizer" because they contain these three elements. However, despite the "complete" name, complete fertilizers do not have all the elements you will need.
To create healthy soil in your garden, you will also want to get a fertilizer with the secondary elements as well.
Here is a list of the secondary elements or nutrients you should look for:
And here is a list of the lesser nutrients that will help your garden soil:
Though you can add fertilizer to your soil to ensure these elements are present, it is not always necessary. Sometimes the ground does not need particular extra additives to be healthy because it already has certain elements in it. You don’t want to spend the money on nutritional soil additives when you don’t need to.
The best way to figure out what your soil needs is to test it.
This testing process is a great teaching opportunity for you and your child. There are a few ways you can test your soil. You can either do it by yourself or take a sample and send it off to be checked.
Soil tests will measure the pH levels, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. Once you get the results back, you will know what your soil is missing and be able to provide it with the nutrients necessary.
Though soil testing is an effective way to help your soil stay healthy, you could also choose to add organic matter.
Organic matter can come in many forms, and most are more practical than buying expensive fertilizers and soil additives.
Here are a few examples of organic matter that will improve your soil health:
- Eggshells – pest control and nutrient additive
- Compost – homemade or commercial will add an excellent nutrient blend.
- Manure (horse, cow, chicken, and sheep) – typically high in all nutrients but should be composted for 90 days before use.
These organic matter solutions can be a great way to involve a child in gardening. With the eggs, you can give a child the task of pulverizing the shells, so they spread well. Composting is a long-term thing that you and your family can participate in. It's good for kids to see that their biodegradable garbage can be put to good use.
And manure will always get a happy giggle out of the little ones 🙂
As mentioned above, composting is an effective way to establish healthy soil. But what exactly is composting?
Composting is the breakdown of organic matter such as food waste, grass clippings, leaves, and more into humus.
This mixture of biodegradable products will create nutrient-rich humus that can be added to a garden to improve soil health and assist in healthy plant growth. When compost is added to a garden, it deposits the necessary nutrients that soil needs to be healthy.
One of the great things about composting is that you can get your entire family involved, including your little garden partner. Composting is a learning tool that can teach your children the importance of recycling and even some breakdown science.
Sure, you can purchase pre-made compost, which is much faster than creating your compost, but it will cost significantly more. You can invest the time to develop your home-made compost pile and save yourself tons of money in the long run.
Though it can take a minimum of 90 days for your compost to fully become humus, it’s worth the effort, so give it a try.
Watch this video to learn how to start your own compost pile.
To get your child involved in composting for the garden, give them tasks
- Bring organic matter from meals and snacks out to the compost (fruits and veggies – no bread or meats)
- Rake the leaves and cut grass and add to the compost
- Pick up the sticks in the yard, break them into tiny pieces, and mix into the compost
- Water the compost when it gets too dry
Through composting, you can also teach your child the science of decomposing organic matter. You don't have to get too complicated if you don't want to, but it's still fun.
If you aren't familiar with the science of composting, buy a book (Composting for Dummies) then you and your child can read through it together.
Reading and learning together is just another way you can bond with your child.
Watering & Sunshine
How do you know when your garden is getting what it needs regarding water and sunlight?
Some plants require more sun and water than others. This information will be on the seed packets to help you decide the best place to plant and how much water you will need.
Watering your plants properly will create a healthy soil base and save you water. Healthy soil retains water more efficiently than poor soil, so you don’t need to water as often.
If your soil isn’t holding water well, you will want to test it and add the needed nutrients or add compost humus.
Although; if you do have healthy soil and it seems to struggle to hold water, you may merely need to aerate the ground. This is primarily a process of creating air pockets in the soil that will hold water more evenly.
For moisture loving or water tolerant crops, you will have to water more often, but you don’t have to worry so much about over watering. However, drought plants or plants that don’t need as much water to succeed will take less watering work.
The key is to know your plants when you start watering them.
Here is a link to a helpful watering chart that will give you a general idea of when and how much to water your plants.
Like water, the amount of sunlight a plant requires will depend on the plant. Once you and your child read through the seed packet instructions, you can start working out where to plant each crop.
You can get a sunlight meter that can tell you the amount of sunlight any spot in your garden gets over a 24 hour period. This will help you determine where to plant.
Here is an excellent video on how to naturally determine where to plant based on sunlight.
Harvesting is probably the most exciting part of gardening for anyone, but especially for a child. To finally see the fruits of their labor, literally, can be an exhilarating accomplishment.
When do you know it is time to harvest?
With above-ground vegetables, it is much simpler to figure out when they should be harvested. The coloration will be vibrant, and the body will have a fuller look. Crops that are ready to be harvested will practically fall off when grabbed. If it does not come off easily, it is not ready.
If you have to pull, it’s a no go!
When it comes to in-ground vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beets), you will have to judge by the visible parts (leaves) to tell if they are ready. The seed packets should provide you with this information and a picture.
It will be great fun for you and your child to go through the garden and harvest the crops you grew together. Then you can prolong the enjoyment by cooking a delicious meal and eating your healthy harvest.
Get the School Involved
Gardening is such a fantastic developmental and educational tool for children that every school should have one that the students are involved with.
If your child’s school does not already have a school garden, then propose the idea and its benefits. There are so many things a child can get out of gardening in school. School gardens are perfect for teaching students about their agricultural environment, community, and health.
Watch this video on the benefits of school gardens:
In school gardens, children will develop social skills and a sense of responsibility that they may not otherwise acquire.
Here are five tips for creating a successful school garden:
- Accessibility – make it accessible to ALL students including the physically limited.
- Placement – place the garden near the main buildings of the school
- Choose the right plants - plant crops that the students will want to eat or will be able to use.
- Rewards day – celebrate the harvest with a healthy snack or class mealtime
- Class – create a class that focuses on gardening and maintaining the garden. Or divide responsibilities among different courses throughout the day.
Here’s a great informational video on how to start a school garden:
Benefits of Gardening for Special Needs Children
If you have a child with special needs, gardening is a great activity to help them develop.
Gardening is an effective form of therapy for individuals with special needs. Not only does it get them involved in an activity where they will visibly accomplish something, but gardening also helps develop motor skills and cognitive reasoning.
Many studies have unanimously concluded that gardening is a form of therapy for children with special needs.
Here are just 3 examples of these studies:
- The Use of Horticulture and Gardening as a Special Education Tool
- Analysis of Therapeutic Gardens for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
- The Influence of Sensory Gardens on the Behavior of Children with Special Educational Needs
If you have a child with special needs, who can go outside and play in the dirt, let them!
Gardening is hands down one of the best activities you can do with your child.
You will have the opportunity to educate your child, give them responsibilities, facilitate development, prepare them for the real world, and make them a well-rounded human being. Not only will you enjoy the bonding time, but you and your family will enjoy the tasty rewards of your garden.
With a little creativity and a parental mindset, there’s practically nothing a garden won’t be able to teach your child. So, get out there and give gardening a try.
You’ll be amazed by all you gain from the time you give!