Planting a Rainbow

Plant a Rainbow

Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea), a colorful flowering vine with culinary uses. Photo credit: Alyssa Vinson

The first green shoot seeking the sun, tendrils grasp, life encircled in each new node, our eyes witness to the verdancy of soil, seed, and sun. Gardening is a vibrant and reaffirming experience. Hands with knuckles caked in soil, fingers brush blankets to cover newly planted seeds as we witness, plan, and plant our gardens. The beauty of a newly sprouted leaf is ever more poignant when viewed through the eyes of a child. As caregivers, family-members, parents, or friends of parents, we can engage the children in our lives in the cycles of nature, inspire them with science and encourage their creativity by gardening together.

Gardening is not a physical labor alone, it involves research, reading, drawing, math, engineering, and art. Any gardening activity can be used as a teachable moment, or as a practice in present mindfulness. Children are increasingly burdened by expectations, homework, and insecurities about their changing bodies. Providing moments of purposeful mindfulness while gardening can build a stable platform for future mindfulness and meditation practices.

If you are unsure of how to engage the children in your life in gardening activities, might I suggest starting with a book? A few of my children’s favorites are Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner, The Snail with the Right Heart: A True Story by Maria Popova and Isabella’s Garden by Glenda Millard. Each of these books can spur conversations, activities, and whole gardens!

A great way to engage kids in gardening is to plant a ‘rainbow garden’ as in the book Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert (listed above).

To plant a successful Florida-Friendly rainbow garden, try these plants:

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea) in foreground. Photo Credit: Alyssa Vinson

My memories of gardening as a child were instrumental in the path I have forged as an adult. Sun-warmed cherry tomatoes bursting in my teeth, tip of my nose dusted with pollen, lying down in the dirt, and gazing upward at the fractal beauty of tree branches and dappled light, all memories that provide sustenance to my spirit and peace in the tumult of life.

More Tips for Gardening with Kids:

  • Make it tactile
    • Find activities that stimulate all five of their senses.
    • Plant herbs such as fennel, mint, and rosemary
    • Encourage them to feel the seeds and soil
    • Explore colors and textures with interesting foliage plants like Coleus.
  • Make it simple
    • Ask them to use a pencil to poke holes in the soil for seeds
    • Ask them to drop seeds into the holes
    • Have them water plants with a small watering can
  • Don’t underestimate them
    • They will ask questions
    • Don’t brush them off, if you don’t know, look it up
    • Let them use tools
  • Don’t squirm at worms
    • Children learn first by mimicking our actions, keep a brave face
    • Show compassion
  • Let them eat the ‘fruits’ of their labors
    • Even if they pluck them a bit too early
    • Eating fruits and vegetables now encourages healthy eating habits later

UF/IFAS Extension and several of its partners have a wealth of resources for activities to encourage you and your children to get out into the garden.


Junior Master Gardener JMG

Gardening with Kids:

Project Learning Tree:

Project WILD:



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Posted: December 29, 2022

Tags: Featured Hot Topic, Florida Gardening, Gardening With Kids, Nature Deficit Disorder

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