I never thought I’d be much of a gardener. I don’t particularly like getting dirty, and I have an actual phobia of worms. Growing up, I’d ask my mom to let me use a plot of earth as my own garden in the spring, and by summer it was always overgrown and left for her to take over — because I didn’t stay on top of the planting or maintenance. But when my husband and I ended up buying a house with a huge backyard a few years ago, I couldn’t ignore how lucky I was to have the illusive green space, right in the city. And I realized I had to take advantage of it.
This year, my son is finally old enough to take part in the gardening with me, and he’s already raring to go — every time we’re outside, he wants to dig.
Besides the general learning experience of the plant lifecycle and how things grow, I love the idea of having kids help in the garden. It’s important for them to see where food comes from and get interested in all kinds of vegetables and fruits. You can see this even if you take your child to the grocery store — if you let them pick out the vegetables, they’ll often be excited to help prepare them and then eat them. Same thing goes with gardening, to an even larger extent. If they see the entire process and feel a sense of ownership from beginning to end, they’ll have not only the sense of accomplishment but also the desire to eat and show off the vegetables upon harvesting.
So how to get them involved?
Start from the very beginning
Order a seed catalogue (if you don’t already receive thousands in the mail like I do). The hard-copy catalogues are fun for little ones to look through because they usually have tons of colorful pictures that make each variety of each vegetable look delicious and beautiful. (Grow Organic is a good place to start.) Have your kids help you pick out which types of seeds to order, and circle or put a sticker on each one you decide on together. When the seeds come, let them open the package from the mail and see what you got.
Let them dig
When it’s time to actually plant the seeds, and then deal with all the maintenance during the growing season, bring a small hand rake, and your little one can be occupied the entire time digging gently in the dirt on the edge of the garden bed near where you’re working. They can also help with watering the garden with the hose or their own watering can.
Teach them how to harvest
When the time comes, show them how to pick the lettuce/leafy greens, and let them pick some leaves themselves. I let my son taste some of them right then and there — straight off the plant. I don’t know any kid who loves a totally plain piece of lettuce, but I also don’t know any kid who wouldn’t be a little bit thrilled by being allowed to pick and eat something right out of the ground. My son found it so cool that he insisted on doing it every time and was still excited to eat the leaves later on when I prepared them for dinner. (Of course you have to be very careful with this one, and make sure your child understands the difference between which plants you can eat right off the the stalk and which ones aren’t edible — always keep an eye on it!)
It’s great fun to get your child involved in gardening, and let’s face it, if we can’t get them interested in playing in or near the garden, we won’t be able to find time to garden. And gardens need time. So try out these tricks to get your kid interested, and get your gardening time in this summer!