Today I would like to welcome Dionna, who has written a guest post on gardening with children. She is a lawyer turned work at home mama, and she’s one of those crunchy liberals her parents warned her about. You can normally find Dionna on her fabulous blog, Code Name: Mama, where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with a toddler. Today, I have a guest post there. So, once you’re done reading Dionna’s thoughts on gardening with children head on over to see what I have to say on the same subject.
Gardening for me is more than just a way to save money by growing vegetables. It is humbling. Miraculous. Exhausting. It is an exercise in delayed gratification. It physically connects me to the Earth. Gardening tests my patience while strengthening my spirit.
My husband shakes his head at me year after year, wondering why I am so anxious to break ground when Iâ€™ve never had (what some would call) a â€œsuccessfulâ€ garden. He doesnâ€™t get it: I like the challenge. And I love working the dirt.
I want our 27 month old son, Kieran, to experience gardening. I want to introduce him to the beauty, surprise, and magic that can be found when you put a handful of seeds in the ground. He may never love to garden, but I want to expose him enough that he has the option.
With that in mind, I have compiled ten fun gardening activities appropriate for all ages of children, but particularly suitable for toddlers and preschoolers. Enjoy!
10 Unique Gardening Activities for Kids
1. Grow a Playhouse: Imagine being three years old and surrounded by gigantic sunflowers towering above you, or crawling into a teepee made of sticks and overgrown with pea pods, or engulfed in a square of moonflowers that open up when the crickets start to sing. Flowering playhouses are easily built (by a parent) out of wooden poles and string. Plant the seeds around the poles, then gently train the flowers to wind around and through them. (1)
2. Grow Something to Wear: Let your children play dress-up with their flowers. Turn colorful blossoms into necklaces, leis, or bracelets. Clip flowers into your daughter’s barrettes or thread one through your son’s shirt button. Save pretty petals to make jewelry.
3. Plant a Rainbow: Find flower seeds in the colors of the rainbow, then help your child plant them in a rainbow shape. Try to find flowers that are roughly the same size and make sure they are all appropriate for the same season.
4. Plant Something Weird: Appeal to your child’s love for the unexpected. Plant purple and red carrots, blue potatoes, or purple beans. Grow miniature or “midget” versions of the vegetables we usually see like peas, corn, or lettuce.
5. Attract Butterflies and Hummingbirds: Create beauty on and above the ground by planting flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. (2)
6. Grow Plants that are Nice to Touch or Fun to Hear: Your toddler will love “tickle me” plants; the leaves curl up when touched. Lamb’s Ears have a fuzzy silvery fur that kids like to touch. If you garden indoors, aloe vera plants are a good tactile choice for small children. You can also try bunny tails and cotton to satisfy a child’s sense of touch. (3)
7. Grow a Craft Project: Grow gourds that you can turn into birdhouses or musical instruments. Grow flowers and berries that you can use for their natural dyes, which your child can use for artwork and other crafts. There are even certain plants with beads that can be used in jewelry.
8. Garden in Unusual Containers: Who says you have to plant seeds in the ground? Give your child a fun container (also a great way to garden inside). You can use an old shoe, a discarded toy, or a plain pot with a face drawn on. Or trap a cucumber in a glass jar.
9. Create a Scratch & Sniff Garden: Please your child’s nose with an assortment of smells: plant mint that smells (and tastes!) like chocolate peppermint, ginger, lemon, orange, and apple, and geraniums that smell like roses, lemon, mint, chocolate, pine, nutmeg, and more.
10. Eat Your Vegetables and Your Flowers: Ground cherries are hidden in pods that look like little lanterns. Grow a pizza patch garden full of tomatoes, peppers, basil, garlic, and other veggies and herbs that can be baked into homemade pizza. Apartment dwellers: did you know you can grow peanuts inside?
For a completely new level of edible fun, try growing flowers you can eat: nasturtium, clover, and lavender are just a few tasty varieties.
A Few Guidelines to Gardening with Children
Here are some simple tips to help keep gardening with kids fun and easy:
1. Give your child her own space and tools.
2. Let your child have some control over what he grows. Choose a few ideas/varieties that are doable, then let your child pick his favorite to try.
3. Relax! Let her do her own thing. Don’t worry if she spends more time playing with the dirt or worms than she does pulling weeds.
4. Consider planting a mixture of seeds, seedlings, and full-grown plants. It can be hard for little ones to wait for those first sprouts to pop out of the ground. (5)
Do you have any fun ideas for gardening with children?
(1) Detailed instructions for a sunflower (or moonflower) playhouse. Instructions for building your own teepee and ideas for seeds to plant around it. Nature Moms Blog has more ideas for flowering playhouses. There are also two books dedicated to growing sunflower houses.
(2) Butterfly Gardens; Hummingbird Gardens
(3) Check out this article for more plants that react to touch.
(4) Always research flowers/plants before growing them. Some – like the Chinese lantern plant – have parts that are poisonous if eaten.
(5) More general tips for gardening with kids –
*Gardening with Kids has a wealth of information and ideas, including The Basics and For the Youngest Beginner;
*Ten Tips on Gardening with Kids; and