If you want your kids to enjoy your garden, you need to let them be kids there. That doesn’t mean let them destroy it by trampling through it without supervision, since they might not yet have developed a sense of how special a place it is. Rather, engage in activities with them that stimulate their interest on their level. You will build relationship with them while you do it, and probably learn things about your own garden as they ask questions and explore. Below is a list of suggested ways to help children begin to look at gardening in new ways. Any of the activities could be done with a child as soon as they are old enough to communicate sufficiently with, but the degree of supervision will vary.
1. Let a child have his own small garden space to plan and tend. You don’t have to make it “all” their responsibility, and try not to make it a chore. Attempt to make it part of regular outside, fresh air play time with you.
- let him choose his favorite vegetable, possibly from a list of things you are ready to deal with and you are pretty sure the family will eat
- let him grow things for gifts
- let him grow things to sell, guiding him in the process, possibly taking advantage of grandparents…
- encourage him to keep a low key diary about his garden, including photos
2. Put the child in charge of monitoring and charting certain details of garden life.
- track patterns of sunlight over a given day and/or over the season
- track when insects or diseases appear
- track when plants bloom and produce fruit
3. Have a leaf gathering and comparing project.
- have a list of characteristics for him to think about, i.e. color, shape, texture
- provide a drawing notebook to trace or draw samples and record facts
- dry or press some for an art project (click on any photo to enlarge)
4. Monitor the life of a spider in it’s web.
- draw pictures or take photos of changes
- note how weather affects it
- observe how bugs get caught and eaten
5. Collect flower petals to make a picture.
- see the details I wrote about pressed flower petal art for children on the D&B Supply blog.
6. Encourage dissecting of plant parts (that have been approved for harvesting).
- try to identify structures
- compare structures between different plants and flowers
- do it at different stages of growth
7. Provide a notebook with blank pages for drawing scenes from the garden.
- each of my children worked through this simple book to learn basic sketching skills: Drawing Textbook. This makes drawing much more enjoyable and useful.
8. Teach the child how to cut bouquets for the house.
- it’s not that you need the bouquets to be precise,
- but there are things about types of flowers,
- like stem length,
- stems that need conditioning,
- flowers that close in the house
- flowers that drip or sprinkle to stain good table clothes
- checking for bugs before bringing them in, to name a few helpful things
- this book on cut flowers has been useful at our house: Cutting Gardens: The Complete Guide to Growing Flowers and Creating Spectacular Arrangements for Every Season and Every Region
9. Send the children on a bug hunt.
- provide magnifiers
- white paper to make them easier to see
- insect identification guides
- help them research the life cycles
- and the impact of each insect in the garden
10. Make taste testing a game.
- give your children permission to eat garden produce as snacks while they are playing outside
- talk about which parts of plants are edible, and if they are equally edible for the plant’s whole life
- research if they are edible to people and animals
- have them pick a few things to compare and try to describe to someone who has never eaten it before
- let a child look for a new recipe to try some garden produce
- (see activity #13)
11. Go on a scent hunt/exploration.
- help the children go around the garden and smell different plants
- talk about whether the scents appeal to everyone
- try to figure out why the plants have various scents, i.e. chemicals present for certain processes, to attract insects, to discourage animals from eating them
12. Let the child choose ways to help in the garden and teach them how to use special tools.
- knowing they are being trusted with real and valued tasks gives them confidence
- start the process with plants that are going to be more resilient to slight mistakes
- point out how something like pruning fits into the life cycle of the plant
- use this time as an opportunity to examine plants in ways that won’t kill them, like dissecting does
13. Make a project of cataloging any poisonous plants in the yard.
- note that not all parts of a plant are necessarily poisonous
- note there are degrees of poisonous that depend on type of chemical, amount ingested, and size of creature
- note that some plant toxins are dangerous only from touching
- distinguish between poisonous weeds and landscape plants
- make a list and/or chart of where the poisonous plants are in the yard
14. Identify birds in the garden and what they are eating.
- binoculars could be helpful
- also a bird identification book
- and recordings of bird sounds
15. Let the child use a camera to collect a series of photos that they can create a photo book with.
- this could be included in most of the garden activities
- it could be a stimulus for a creative writing or informational writing project