Thursday, April 12, 2012

Gardening with Children

Gardening is fun for me, maybe fun for you too, and it can be fun for kids too. Just think of how fun it is to you to plant a tiny seed and watch it grow into a big plant that makes food for you to eat. Kids think that's awesome too. The last two years I have shown cub scouts how to plant seeds and given them tidbits of info about certain plants. Nothing is more entertaining than a bunch of boys asking crazy questions about things in the garden, and they learn about how things grow along the way. I always ask what are the three main things a seed needs to grow into a plant. Most know that it takes water, dirt, and sunlight. What they don't know is that it takes patience and work. They take their tiny cups home after they have planted their seed and put it in the window sill. I tell them to give it sips of water everyday and let me know when it has grown a bit. I have kids come up to me at school saying that their plant has grown and is out of the ground! They get so excited about it, but I do too. Here are some ideas on how to get your kids involved:
1.  Have them watch you play in the garden, and let them get dirty too. When we moved into our house several years ago it was the first time we had a yard in several years. It didn't take too long for them to start playing in the dirt. Then the next spring I started planting a garden. My boys had their tiny hoes and shovels and where out there with me. When I was planting something and they were with me I always explained what I was doing, what the plant would make and maybe how we would eat it too. That first summer I constantly caught them digging up the gardens. One day it was hot, I had been working in the garden all day and was tired. I heard them giggling around the corner at another garden spot and I just knew they were tearing it up. When I turned the corner I was shocked to find them standing by the broccoli, happily munching away on it. I just backed up and left them to it. After that year I started letting them pick plants they wanted to grow. I have learned that if they grow it they are more likely to eat it themselves. Without me making them or them sitting at the table for an hour staring at it on their plate.
Here they are writing corn on canning labels and adding the date.
Cosmos, my son picked these out years ago and we save the seeds for the next year.
2. Let them help pick seeds or plants. Since the above story, we have grown sunflowers (which are a big hit for kids), peas, gourds (can't eat but fun to grow), pumpkins, melons and many more items the boys have picked out themselves. Including flowers too, my favorites were mexican sunflowers and orange cosmos, which I still grow the cosmos. Now we have moved on to multi colored popcorn and jelly melons for planting this year. I always try to get them in on the seed buying, and they love planting them too. Don't forget seed saving either, they can collect pods or seeds off of plants too.
3. Give them jobs they can do well. My boys like to hoe and find worms to feed the chickens, when they start getting wild with the hoe and swinging it around I have them stop and do something else. They like to water and pull weeds, more so when a fancy or cute watering can is involved. They can also scoop dirt into pots and pick bugs off plants. Mulching is another entertaining job to give to kids.
Digging wild onions up.
4. Let them have their own area or specific plant. This year I have given my boys their own garden spot, which has seeds from the cub scouts planted in it. The food they grow in it is donated to the local mission, I took the first batch of lettuce there the other day. Granted my boys are 8 and 6 and I end up doing a lot of the work in their spot, but when school is out I think I will let them do it all.
 5. Save your back and let your kids do it. When the veggies or fruit start to grow and are ready to pick kids should be in on that too. You will have less bending over to do and they will have fun picking, especially if its fruit. When we hunt blackberry's my boys are purple mouthed and a little scratched up too, but they are very happy to help. I also get my kids in on preparing the food to eat or can. Children can shuck corn and snap beans. Just make sure you give them age appropriate jobs. One of my boys likes the job of finding worms in the corn and collecting them to feed the chickens or smash in his hands. I wouldn't give a small child a knife to go cut the okra off the stalk with but they can hold the bucket while you drop them in.
My boy getting ready to snap yard long beans last year.
6. Kids can help take the garden down too. In fall we clean are gardens up taking the old plants down and I sprinkle veggie bits on the dirt then we layer newspaper on it and cover it with hay or straw. I call it putting the garden to bed, and my boys help with this too. 

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