Jayme is an artist and freelance writer who trained in the medical field, and has worked as caregiver, farmer, mom and DIY'er.
Nurturing Children's Love for Nature
Ever read The Secret Garden? It's a delightful children's book about three kids who discover and restore a neglected garden.
Although the children understand most of the science behind tending the flowers, they still believe that the garden is full of magic and wonder. This is how most children, even in today's technological world, perceive nature and all of its miracles. We should learn from them!
Children love the outdoors. The bugs, the dirt, the birds, the flowers, the trees. After a long winter indoors, they are ready to burst free and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. Gardening with your children is a fun, healthy way for your family to enjoy nature while learning new things, growing your own food, and improving your landscape.
Helping kids grow plants is easy too. Kids aren't nearly as fussy as adults; they'll go along with your suggestions. All they need are beds or plots of their own, some tools, some plants or seeds, and an adult who is willing and able to make the experience educational AND fun!
“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.”
— Frances Hodgson Burnett
What Children Can Learn From Gardening
Growing flowers and plants (either from seeds, bedding plants, cuttings, or bulbs) provides an endless opportunity to learn about science and nature.
Kids can learn:
- The names of common plants
- Which plants are edible
- Why some plants prefer sun
- How plants use the sun and soil to grow
- How insects interact with plants
- The process of germination
- How to grow plants from cuttings and bulbs
- How plants provide oxygen
- How plants prevent soil erosion
- Basic soil chemistry
- How food is grown and preserved
Be sure to study up on your high school biology. You may hear tons of "why" questions!
Although gardening is a great science project, it is very important that you don't kill the magic of nature by being too factual. Young children especially need to find the wonder in how the earth works.
Encourage them to create stories around what they see (and think they see). This stimulates the imagination. The more enthusiastic you are about what they tell you and show you, the more eager they will be to share.
Consider it a trade. You are involving them in your gardening project, and they are involving you in their own world.
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Child-Sized Flower Beds and Containers
Since children are a lot shorter than their adult counterparts, large flower beds can present a problem. Kids may have to step into the beds to reach some plants or weeds, which can endanger tender, young plants near the front. If containers are too tall, children may not be able to see the plants.
If your children are interested in growing plants, take the time to build or buy smaller containers that are easier to manage. If you don't have space to build new flowerbeds, get creative and re-purpose other items for container gardens. Things that make good beds can include:
- Small wading pools
- Painted tires
- Unused pots, pans, or bowls
You can also use store-bought flower pots. I recommend plastic for younger children over ceramic or clay.
If you are building flower beds specifically for children, let them help with the design. This helps to involve them even further. They may even want to outline their vegetable garden with timbers, bricks, or stones. Small segments of pre-existing beds can be divided off as well.
Gardening Tools for Kids
Since gardening is the same as imaginative play for kids, they will enjoy having child-sized tools to make the adventure more realistic.
Not only will this prevent accidents from a child trying to wield an adult-sized hoe, there will also be less time spent searching for your misplaced tools.
Many stores carry a variety of gardening tools for kids. These can be plastic or metal. Some are exact miniatures of the tools mom and dad use.
- Hand trowel
- Watering can
- Miniature wheelbarrow
- Small gardening gloves
- Tool caddy
Small buckets such as sand-buckets are also fun and useful. Don't forget to add sunscreen, hats, and sunshades to a child's gardening outfit.
Starting Seeds Indoors
Depending on your zone, you may want to start your seeds indoors. This gives the plants time to get stronger before they face a surprise cold-snap or a strong wind. It also provides an opportunity for kids to bring the outdoors inside while they wait for play weather.
Although you can wait and buy bedding plants for your garden, part of the magic for children is to watch the seeds germinate. It is also a valuable learning experience.
Seeds can be started in any container.
Some of the things we have used include:
- Disposable aluminum pans
- Assortment of plastic containers (including repurposed wet wipe boxes!)
- Bedding pots from last year
- Foam egg cartons
I also bought a seed starter kit for my daughter. It only cost $1 and came with a small pot, a pellet of growing medium, and a packet of daisy seeds. The daisies were the first plants of the season, and my daughter loved watching the pellet of growing medium swell when watered.
These kits probably won't provide enough flowers to fill a bed, but they are great pre-gardening activity. They can be very useful for those with limited space as well. The flowers can be re-potted and left to grow in a window.
Seeing butterflies on your flowers is one of the many rewards of gardening. If you have a child who loves butterflies, add these plants to the flower beds:
- Butterfly bushes