Easy ways to introduce young children to gardening by Catherine from Growing Family
Young children make very natural gardeners. They love hands-on activities, they like spending time outdoors and exploring nature, and they don’t mind getting a bit grubby in the process. Gardening ticks all of these boxes, and right from the toddler stage you can encourage children to get stuck in and help out with some gardening projects.
Getting kids gardening from an early age also has lots of benefits. For starters, it gives you a fun family hobby that keeps everyone active. It also gives you an opportunity to spend more time outdoors, without the planning and packing that usually accompanies a trip out with young children. And of course, gardening is an engaging way to teach children about nature, where food comes from, and the importance of looking after our planet.
Both of my kids have gardened with me since they were really small, and over the years I’ve learned a few tricks for keeping it fun and engaging – as well as what to avoid! If you’d like to encourage those little green fingers, here are some easy ways to introduce young children to gardening.
Start gardening with small projects when introducing children.
When I first started gardening with my children, I quickly learned that it’s a really good idea to do it on a small scale. A young child’s attention span isn’t very long, and their little hands can’t cope with large tools and big flower beds. It’s definitely worth using child-sized hand tools and gardening gloves, and keeping the jobs you give them short and sweet. Having a few little tasks in mind that you can introduce when their attention starts to waver is a big help.
Don’t assume that all your outside time needs to be dedicated to gardening either. Just spending time outdoors is a great way to encourage small children to interact with the natural world. It can be as simple as eating lunch in the garden, taking the toys outside on a sunny day, getting busy with the watering can, or having a go at some nature crafts. My book ‘A Year of Nature Craft & Play‘ has lots of fun ideas, including crafts, games and gardening projects.
Plant seeds to capture the imagination of children
Planting seeds has always been my kids’ favourite gardening job. Planting a seed and seeing a tiny seedling emerge is such a magical process, so it’s not hard to see why it grabs their attention. Add to that the fact that you have flowers or a harvest to look forward to, and growing seeds is a perfect gardening project to keep kids interested.
Go for seeds that are easy for little hands to handle, and varieties that aren’t too fussy when it comes to planting instructions and growing conditions. Sweet peas, sunflowers, cosmos and wildflowers are all good flower options, and mixed salad, courgettes and runner beans are ideal veggies to try.
Allow children to freely explore nature and the outdoors
Gardening with nature in mind is a great way to introduce children to the concept of caring for local wildlife. You can have fun creating habitats that support your local species; this could be growing plants that pollinating insects love, building a mini log pile to provide shelter, or putting out a bird feeder and seeing who comes to visit.
If you’d like to introduce a little bit of learning, a garden bug hunt is a lovely way to grab their attention and teach them about how creatures interact with the soil and your plants.
Grow plants with wow factor to engage children in gardening
So many plants deliver on wow factor, and growing exciting things is a brilliant way to get kids enthusiastic about gardening. Edible plants are a good option; it’s great fun to add homegrown veggies to your lunch and eat it outside, or pick a strawberry from the plant and scoff it straight away. Little ones will really enjoy seeing their harvest turned into tasty meals on their plates!
It’s nice to use fun tableware to help children engage with their food too – I love Nuby’s new eco-friendly rice husk range with it’s cute frog design. It’s made from a fully biodegradable and compostable material, so once the kids have moved onto grown up tableware you can add it to your compost bin to form fertiliser for the garden, while also helping to reduce your carbon footprint.
Fast-growing plants are another good choice, as they work well with impatient little gardeners. Cress is ideal here; you can harvest the leaves in just a few days. For speedy flowers, it’s hard to beat nasturtiums; as well as being quick and easy to grow, you can also eat the flowers.
An element of competition is also exciting, and growing sunflowers is perfect for this. If each family member grows one you can have a height contest, which is great motivation for looking after those plants. The flowers are seriously impressive too.
Use gardening to explore children’s senses
Gardening is by nature a very sensory experience, and kids love this hands-on element, so make the most of it by growing plants that stimulate their senses. Tactile plants can be explored by little hands; succulents, soft grasses, furry-leaved Lamb’s ears, and fluffy flowers such as ‘teddy bear’ sunflowers are all perfect. You can explore scent with flowers such as lavender and sweet peas, or fragrant herbs like mint and rosemary. The garden also gives you plenty of opportunities to explore sound, as the birds sing and the wind blows through leaves or rattles seed pods.
Give children their own little gardening patch
We gave our kids their own little plot in the garden as soon as they could walk, and it worked wonders when it came to keeping them engaged. Having their own area to look after gave them a sense of responsibility and ownership, and a chance to do things their way. You don’t have to sacrifice a lot of space; even a container will work well.
Children can have fun decorating their plot, choosing their seeds or plants, and making or writing their own plant labels. Once they’re all set up, you can help them learn how to look after their plants and encourage them to check in on progress regularly. I found that having their own plots at a young age was a great way to keep them busy while I got on with other jobs in the garden too!
Hopefully these tips have given you lots of ideas for introducing young children to gardening. It’s worth remembering that there’s no right or wrong way to start gardening with your children; the most important thing is to get out there and have a go. Spend time together, engage with nature, and get a bit grubby, and you’ll be well on the way to making gardening a fun activity that your kids will come back to time and again.
About the author: Catherine Hughes is a writer, mum and green-fingered gardening enthusiast of Growing Family blog. You can read more of her blogs over at www.growingfamily.co.uk and follow her on Instagram @growing_family
*All of the opinions and advice shared in this blog are those of Catherine Hughes. They are based on her own experiences and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organisation, employer or company.