Earth Day and Every Day: 11 Ways to Make Gardening Extra Fun for Kids

With Earth Day upon us, not to mention the warmer and longer spring days, many of us have been heading into our gardens. Around much of the Northern Hemisphere, this is the peak time to sow some seeds into the ground, as well as plant a lifelong gardening habit into the children in our lives.

Gardening helps families spend time together outdoors, take pride in growing our own food, and connect to others who have lived on the land before us. Although gardening offers a bounty of simple wonder, beauty and fun for even the smallest children, it doesn’t hurt to employ a few methods for getting and keeping them especially engaged.

Here are some simple ways to maximize your child’s interest in the garden.

Let children select some plants they want to grow. Something magical happens when one has ownership of a project from its initial stages. When choosing plants, check that you have the right growing conditions for them to help ensure a successful experience. Planting information is available on seed packets and through garden-supply store folks, who are generally very helpful. You can choose seeds, young seedlings, or a combination of the two. Seeds are more cost-effective and can be especially rewarding and wondrous. Bedding plants of course give your garden instant color.

(As an aside, my daughter always picked marigolds, as did I when I was a kid. They’re so colorful and cheery and happen to be easy to grow from seedlings or seeds. Perhaps most children are drawn to bright marigolds.)

Chop chores into small blocks. Kids can lose interest if the project seems daunting. Try to break up the tasks into doable chunks and over more than one session if necessary.

Make a sign that identifies the garden, area, or container as the child’s. The sign can be as simple as a painted rock or as ambitious as a mosaic-tile kit from an art-supply store. If other people are sharing the garden, you can still identify different children’s plantings by putting each name on a wooden stick (available in bags at garden-supply stores) in permanent ink.

Create a fun space in the garden. This can be a hiding place that you create with trellises or plantings; a tree stump that can serve as a table for tea parties; or an area that is decorated with whimsical objects you make or find. For instance, pipe cleaners and beads can be used to make simple butterflies, mushrooms and flowers — they can be placed among the plants and can get wet and still last a long time.

Attract animals to your garden. Certain plants and flowers are known to attract various butterflies and birds. This can add another level of delight for children. The National Wildlife Federation has information about how to turn any garden into a habitat for wildlife. Even if you don’t get your garden “wildlife” certified, there are a lot of fun, helpful tips for bringing creatures into your yard.

Let your child plant. This goes back to ownership, plus it’s just so much fun to put seeds into the ground and then watch them come up. Large seeds like nasturtium, peas, beans, sunflowers, and gourds can be especially easy for children to handle and poke into holes. Smaller seeds can be mixed with coffee grounds for scattering. You can usually tell the relative size of a seed by shaking the seed packet. You may also want to look for seeds that will sprout and mature relatively quickly.

Let your child water. Most children love to water. Teach them to check the soil by poking a finger down a couple of inches. If they feel moistness, there’s no need to water. If it’s dry, the plant is thirsty. It’s also best to water early or late in the day, so that the water doesn’t dry out in the sun before getting to the roots of the plants. Water fairly deeply and try to get the water into the dirt instead of right on the plants, where it can damage leaves and stems.

Let your child harvest. Children also love to harvest what they’ve grown. Be sure to have them experience picking their own vegetables or flowers (with you helping to cut stems, as necessary.) Cooking or baking with the food you’ve grown is, of course, a delight. Strawberries are really fun to grow and eat right in the garden — I’ve had the best luck with young plants rather than seeds. Catnip is fun to grow if you have an appreciative cat. And flowers are fun to give others on Earth Day, May Day or anytime.

Avoid the use of pesticides in any garden that you’ll be eating from, or even spending time in. If your garden does develop an unwanted species, take an affected piece of the plant to your local garden-supply store and ask for advice on how to treat it organically.

Let the diggers dig. Some children prove especially interested in what’s under the ground. For them, an area in which to dig and look at worms and other creatures may be ideal.

(Relatedly, when my daughter’s wonderful pre-school learned they were going to have new-home construction occur next door, they cut a hole in the fence and covered it with plexiglass. A whole group of kids regularly watched the bulldozers and other tools of construction with fascination. In other words, it’s good to remember that kids aren’t necessarily interested in the same things we are.)

Allow for mistakes and experimentation. Children can learn early that things don’t always grow as planned. Likewise, gardens can be wonderful places to explore, experiment, and observe.

Look for future articles here with more specifics about how to get your garden started and some fun ideas for kids’ garden projects.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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11 Responses to Earth Day and Every Day: 11 Ways to Make Gardening Extra Fun for Kids

  1. Happy Earth day. Thanks for sharing. Hope every mom would teach their kids gardening. It’s really fun.

  2. Great ideas! My 3-year-old loves watering his little bed of wildflowers. In honor of Earth Day, we plan to plant some tomatoes today.

  3. Hi Kimmy and Mark! Thanks so much for taking time out on Earth Day and visiting. I agree, Kimmy, that everyone should learn about the fun of gardening. It’s such a great and rewarding multi-generational activity. I bet your 3-year-old likes to water, Mark! Sunflowers are really fun for kids, too. Enjoy your tomato planting today. Come back and let us know how they’re doing.

  4. I love this post, Suz! Thanks for sharing all the great tips. I especially like the idea of making the space fun by adding something whimsical. My boys would love that!

    • Hi Debi and Alison! I’m so glad you both came by. You’re both terrific outdoor and garden enthusiasts, and your comments mean a lot. Debi, I’m so glad you like the idea of a whimsical space. I’ll be eager to see what you and your boys come up with. And, Alison, I’m glad you still experience a love for simple garden chores (I find watering very relaxing) and a passion for experimenting. I’m sure there’s an experimenter in most of us gardeners. I know I’ve tried all kinds of things, to all kinds of results.

  5. Great, inspirational gardening article Suz. Watering with a watering can and digging in the dirt (finding worms) are still my favorite outdoor activities. And I’m nowhere near done with experimenting!

  6. I have ttwo little comandos at home. Age 3 and 16 months. All they do is play with watter.
    They go all crazy and the next day they sneeze.

    Well anyway i love them.

  7. Hi Roman! Great to see you here. Yes, most kids love water play. I know that was a key component of gardening and outdoor activities for my daughter and her buddies. And it’s so simple!

    Great to know about your Coffee Inspector site, too. Looks like a wonderful resource.

  8. I’m a little late to the party here… we love gardening at our house. My three year old gets two square feet in my square foot garden to call his own. He picked the seeds, and when he snow melts, will get to pull weeds, thin, and harvest…or not. I also plant lots of cherry tomatoes because I know both the boys will love eating them right off the vine. I love the idea of a little sign, maybe that will be a project to put on the list.

  9. These are great tips! May I just add that you should first of all demonstrate that you are gardening and explain to your child why you are doing it. Another thing that you can do is to make a playroom inside your garden storage shed where your child can put his/her play things together with some gardening tools that are toys. This will make your child look at gardening as fun. If you don’t have a garden storage shed yet, you might think of getting one. Read reviews of storage sheds that can also be used as play houses from websites such as http://www.storagesheds360.com.

  10. Hi Mel! You can never be too late to a gardening party. It seems like you’re doing wonderful things in your own garden with your kids — giving them lots of ownership and things they love to grow and eat. I bet they’ll have a lifelong appreciation for growing and harvesting things. What fun! Let me know if you do make a sign or do other fun garden projects.

    Hi Mary! Welcome to Slow Family Online. You have some really attractive, practical sheds on your site. I love your idea of continuing a child’s ownership to a workspace and tools. And, of course, an adult’s love of gardening would likely be contagious. Gardening is a great way to spend healthy family time together.

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