Theresa Badurek, UF/IFAS Extension, Pinellas County
Children find gardening almost magical… and you can too, through their eyes. Remember the first time you planted a seed and watched it stretch fresh green stems and leaves to the light? If not, it’s time to do it again, and there’s no better way than to share it with a child. You can garden with your kids, grandkids, neighbors, nieces, nephews, or friends’ kids. Parents might even think about gardening activities as play-date ideas. However you endeavor to garden it is great exercise, a good way to get kids outside, and perfect for both fine and gross motor skill development. You can use the garden to teach literally any subject- or just to have some good old-fashioned, not-so-clean fun. Not only that, but if you grow edibles, then kids will learn where their food comes from and they are more likely to try new foods when they grow them. Not convinced yet? Well, gardening is also a great stress reliever, and we could all use some relaxation time.
To begin, let the child decide what kind of garden to create or what kinds of plants to grow. Giving kids the opportunity to plan and design the garden is a learning tool itself. Older kids can even start with a garden budget to stay within. (Who said gardening only taught kids about plants?) Allowing the child to make decisions gives them ownership, pride, control, and teaches them responsibility. Plants die if you don’t water them- caterpillars eat your tomatoes if you don’t pay attention- we’re learning a lot! Although you want the child to have responsibility, it’s still important for you to provide sun protection, insect protection (especially if the child has allergies), proper tools, etc. Don’t forget to keep lots of nice cool water on hand- it’s important for you and the kids to stay hydrated- not just the plants.
Once you are finished with the outside activities in the garden it’s a great idea to do reinforcing activities later. Read a garden book, keep a garden journal, ask the child to draw pictures of various things from the garden, etc. These activities help kids to retain their new knowledge and provide you with more opportunities to discuss the who, what, where, and why of your gardening fun.
Excited to dig in but not sure what kind of garden would be best for you and your garden prodigy? Here are some popular gardening ideas for kids:
- Pollinator gardens (butterflies and more)
- Sensory gardens- smells and textures can be highlighted in plant materials, not just colors and shapes
- Vegetable gardens with themes: pizza, salsa, soup, and salad are popular ideas; you simply grow the ingredients for each
- Cut flower gardens
- Fairy/dinosaur “miniature” gardens
- Terrariums (you can do this one inside)
- Bird gardens- grow native plants birds like to eat or nest in
- Alphabet gardens- grow something for each letter
Now, grab those kids (with mom and dad’s permission) and get gardening!