Getting Kids Working in the Garden
I have been gardening with children for as long as I can remember. I have 4 children, whom I homeschool, so they are pretty much always here. So, if I am working in the garden, they are generally with me. Which is sometimes awesome and other times…… like……. why don’t you just die?
When I first began gardening with kids I did all the planning, selecting, grouping, and designing. The kids were my “helpers.” They planted what I wanted to plant, where I wanted it planted. They also helped with the weeding and harvesting. I was making all the calls.
This system did not result in willing children excited about working in the garden. They were my “helpers” and had no pride or say in the garden. They weren’t very enthusiastic about working FOR ME in MY garden, to say the least.
This all changed the day I gave them ownership.
The year we put in our 21 raised garden beds I told each of my kids to pick one. They now owned their own bed. This was the turning point in my children’s garden enthusiasm. They could plant anything they wanted! They could plant everything they wanted! They got to decide! They got to plan! They owned their own garden. Happy Kids!
I have tried many strategies to get them excited about working in the garden. Some have worked, others have failed. Here are my top 7 Tips for getting Kids working in the garden & loving it!
SECRET #1 Give them Space –
Each of my 4 children have a designated garden bed that is their own.
It is 4X8 and it’s all theirs. I have found this to be the #1 contributor to getting my kids excited about the garden. Choosing what to plant and where to plant it is one of the most rewarding parts of gardening. I want my kids to experience this and have fun with their own space.
SECRET #2 Give them their own gardening supplies –
Every spring I bring home “Gardening packages” for each of my children. These packages usually include: new gloves, a shovel, a cultivator, some seed packets and maybe a hat. It doesn’t need to be expensive, most gardening supplies can be found at dollar stores.
Remember how much fun it is to go to the gym when you have new workout clothing? The same enthusiasm can happen in the garden. There’s nothing like sliding on a brand new pair of gardening gloves covered in flowers (or cammo). Everyone loves new beginnings or a fresh start. Let your kids kick off the gardening season with some new dirt-friendly toys.
SECRET #3 Take them shopping –
I take my children to the nursery and let them pick out some plants and seed packets. They may need a little guidance choosing what will grow well. Help them choose varieties that can succeed in your area. Nursery’s around here sell EVERYTHING, regardless whether it can grow here or not. Some seeds don’t stand a chance of reaching maturity before frost comes. Some plants will grow, but will never bear fruit in our climate.
As long as it can grow – I let the kids have their way.
I have one daughter who is growing radishes, flowers and catnip. That’s it. She wants radishes. She wants wild-flowers. She grows catnip for the cats. It’s her garden. Go for it!
I have a son who grows absolutely everything he can get his hands on. If anyone has left over seeds – he plants them. If I have seeds from 3 years ago – he plants them. His garden is always a jungle by July. I think it’s great. He’s having a blast growing his flower, fruit, veggie jungle.
SECRET # 4 Keep it fun –
First, be sure to head out to the garden during a pleasant time of day. Here that usually means morning after breakfast. The temperature is wonderful, the day is fresh, the kids aren’t tired. There’s nothing fun about working in the sun in the middle of the day when it’s scorching out.
Most kids love sand boxes. Out here, that’s pretty much what our garden is. 21 sandboxes filled with dirt! If you happen to have a child that doesn’t want to dig in the dirt, they may enjoy painting row markers and garden signs.
When we work in the garden there is a lot of camaraderie, fellowship, and lively conversation. We have many stories and laughter that revolve around the garden. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Work doesn’t have to be a drudgery, it can be satisfying and fun.
Bring the IPod dock to the garden. There are few things more magnetic than loud music when it comes to teenagers (at least my teenagers). Weeding 21 garden beds can feel like a party with some good music, laughter and Pepsi Throwbacks!
SECRET #5 Keep the work-load realistic (and fair) –
Even with the children taking ownership of their own gardens, there are still 17 other garden beds that need weeding around our place.
Once upon a time I would head out to the garden with 4 tiny people armed with gloves and 5 gallon buckets. The goal was to pull, remove and exterminate, all weeds. We all stayed in the garden until all the weeds were gone.
This was a bad plan. Some people worked hard. Some people worked slow. Some people did not work at all. You can imagine how this went. The hard workers were not happy to be picking up the slack for the ones playing with ants.
What seems to work best for our family is assigning everyone a few beds. Older kids get more beds to weed. Younger children only weed a couple of beds. When the beds (assigned to you) are weed-free you are done. Yea!
No one is held hostage in the garden waiting for someone else to pull up their britches and get to work. The slow pokes can goof off as long as they want. When you’re done you get your Pepsi Throwback! If you’re not done – have fun in the garden. We’ll be on the porch drinking Pepsi’s.
SECRET #6 Pay attention to their attention spans –
I try to do a good job encouraging the kids and seeing that the work is fun. I want them to experience the joy of planting seeds, watching them emerge from the ground and harvesting the food they grew. I don’t want the garden to be something they loathe, or dread. I want it to be an activity they enjoy and look forward to.
To keep gardening fun, I try to make the work light. When they begin to lose interest, I send them off to explore, get wet, or do something else. I can finish up, after all, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
SECRET #7 Give them Food (or drinks) –
While we are in the garden we all drink our weight in fresh cool water. When the work is done it’s time for something a little more spunky!
We usually end our days gardening with a fun beverage. Who doesn’t love a refreshing drink after working in the sunshine? I have 100% juice boxes. I have Pepsi Throw backs (Pepsi’s made with real Cane Sugar). I have fresh peach (virgin) Daiquiri’s (when the peaches are ripe). I try to keep a stash of festive drinks in the garage refrigerator (or in the barn refrigerator) just for rewards after working.
A drink may not sound like much, but around here they are a huge treat. We typically drink water (Berkey) or milk (raw). Any other drink is rare at our house and makes for big fun in the garden.
I think when children help it makes them happy. I see it in my 4 children. Helping makes them joyful. They know they are needed. They are contributing to their family. The work they are doing matters. They get to be a blessing.
My children are still young, yet they tell me after they grow up they will be bringing me grandchildren to help me in the garden.
I can’t wait!