For many gardeners, spending time in the garden is relaxing, rewarding and provides an ever-changing sense of accomplishment. Sharing the joys and rewards of gardening with children can provide even more pleasure and reward for the gardener, as well as an educational, fun and life-lessons rich experience for the child.
A good way to introduce children to gardening is to give them a small plot where they can do as they like. This could be their own raised bed, a corner of your vegetable garden, or even a large container. Start small and keep it simple, with realistic expectations to avoid disappointment. While you should be there for directions and guidance, allow children to decide what to plant. Radishes may be good for a short attention span, but are not fun for most kids to eat. Suggest carrots, runner beans, sunflowers or cherry tomatoes. Or, better yet, grow an activity. Thyme makes a good border for hopscotch, and gourds can be turned into a birdhouse at the end of the season.
Sharing growing space is one thing, but most of us are fiercely protective of our gardening tools. Help your children feel like part of the gardening team by giving them their own tools. A small shovel, a pair of gloves and a kid-size cultivator can instill pride of ownership. Even a wagon can double as a barrow for carting soil and supplies around. Don’t forget the other important tools – sunscreen and a hat! Dedicate some shed space to put away all these tools at the end of the day.
By mid-season, interest in the plants may begin to wane. This is a good time to move the focus to pest control. Explain why some creatures are beneficial, and that planting host plants such as yarrow and Queen Anne’s lace will bring insect friends into the garden. Spray bottles are tons of fun for kids, so fill one with soapy water and send them out to blast aphids off the dahlias and chrysanthemums.
When trying to cultivate an interest in gardening, and nature in general, it is important to keep it light. Kids see a garden as a curious, colorful place that brings all the senses alive. Their sense of wonder is refreshing and contagious. Gardening gives us the chance to teach children so many things, but you might be surprised how often a child’s questions will make even the most seasoned gardener stop and scratch her head.