Several weeks ago my two youngest kids went out in the backyard with rakes and began to clear away the detritus from underneath some trees right by our back patio. We’ve attempted to make it into a garden several times, but never had proper soil. The weeds of north Idaho defeated us. My laziness defeated us.
But after the boys spent a couple of days raking and planning and picking up sticks and pulling weeds I didn’t have the heart to tell them I couldn’t be bothered. So my husband went to some friends who have horses and got manure and I went to the garden store with the boys and picked out some plants.
Getting the Grown-ups Involved
We talked about annuals vs. perennials. We also discussed how the area where they had planned their garden was shaded by some large poplar trees and so we would need shade tolerant plants. We also talked about costs and how some of our plants would need to be seeds while others could be potted.
They very carefully planned where their plants would go, planted them in spots where we hoped they would thrive, and then watered and watched.
It’s been a couple of weeks and we can see some of our seeds sprouting.
The boys run out to the garden every day to check the plants and make sure the soil is staying moist for our seeds.
Their excitement about the garden got me re-interested in gardening as well so hubby hauled more and more loads of manure and we have enough for our vegetables, greenhouse, an herb garden, and some mounds for strawberries and blackberries.
We go out to the garden every day to check on the plants. We’re excited every time we find a new seedling. We marvel over how fast the lobelia are spreading. We eagerly watch for bees because we know they are helping our garden grow.
I don’t plan on turning the garden into a formal lesson. I don’t think it needs to be. Besides, some of the learning my children do ought to be spontaneous, relaxed, and paper free.
A Children’s Garden Should Be Magical
Kids love gardens. Gardens are magical places. Life happens there and we can help it along. That’s powerful and amazing. It’s also beautiful.
Of course, flowers and foliage are the number one ingredients for a magical garden. But here are some other things you can add.
Structures made of natural materials, like this fence.
Or this wattle style raised bed.
Birdhouses and bird feeders. Is there anything more magical than a hummingbird or a sparrow flitting through your garden? I think not.
Rocks and paths.
Whimsical plantings, like the sunflower house we’re starting. When it grows up it will be a big towering circle of golden flowers, a perfect hiding place for kids.
Signs. Ours are made of scrap wood on which we wrote with Sharpie markers. The kids decided what the sign would say.
Garden art. This is just a stick we found in the woods and painted. You can do the same with rocks as well.
Miniature things like a fairy garden or a little road system for hot wheels cars. Put it right in the garden. This is an Indian village my son made. Yes, the totem pole is out of place with the teepees. He knows that, but he likes it all together. The miniatures make the garden not just a place to look at, but a place to play.
What Kids Can Do In A Garden
Here are some jobs kids can do in the garden, even very young kids, with a little guidance.
- Planning the layout. Where do paths go? Is there going to be a bench? Do any existing plants need to be trimmed or moved?
- Building things for the garden. My kids have built birdhouses and bird feeders that are part of our gardens and even get used as they were intended. Kids can also help build benches, bird baths, sundials, and garden art of all sorts.
- Shopping for plants. Take your child with you to the garden center. Talk about whether you need sun or shade plants. Teach them to read the labels on the plants or seed packets. Are you buying vegetables, herbs, flowers, or foliage? Talk about the money aspect. Decide on the colors you want. We decided that in our little garden we were only going to choose yellow and purple flowers.
- Preparing soil. My kids were excited to shovel manure (at least at first) because it was for their garden. They loved using the wheelbarrow and raking it all out smoothly. They loved placing the stones in the path to make a walkway. Talk about the importance of good nutrients in the soil for your plants to grow well.
- Planting. Kids love spreading seeds and also placing plants. I think it’s a good idea to buy at least a few plants so that kids have some immediate results in their garden, then fill int he rest with seeds to save money.
- Watering. Kids love using a watering can, a hose with a nozzle or setting a sprinkler. Talk about how when plants are first getting started they need more water than they do later after they are established. Talk about how some plants need more water than others.
- Weeding. This works best if it is modeled. Work with your kids in the garden. Just pick a few dozen weeds out each time you head to the garden. Kids can learn to identify weeds that are common in your area and to identify their little seedlings so they don’t pick out the wrong plants. Spending a marathon hour or two in the hot sun picking out weeds is not the way to gardening love.
- Harvesting. Whether your harvest is food or flowers, kids are so excited to pick the fruits of their labor and know they contributed to the miracle. They might even eat their veggies if they know they were the ones responsible for their existence. (Personally that’s never worked with my kids. They’re not so easily fooled!)
- Other area of real life you can get your kids involved in include: home repairs, carpentry, auto (and bike) mechanics, grocery shopping, cooking, and animal care.
- As kids grow they can learn more and more. The garden is no different. Older kids can also learn about propagation, pest control, and do experiments with soil and water conditions, greenhouse or no greenhouse, etc. They can also keep notebooks on thier garden, which is something many sucessful gardeining adults do.
- You don’t need to turn every experience into a formal lesson, but gardening makes a great hands on base for a unit study. This set of free printables about seeds is perfect for the 3-6 crowd. This one is a botany unit for older kids. And Layers of Learning has seveal units on botany, starting with Unit 1-16.
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