Can it be difficult to engage children with the art of gardening? Sure. That’s because adults tend to see gardening in a different way.
Adults look at the outcomes that gardening provide. A well-tended garden can provide plenty of homegrown fresh produce and opportunities for the family to engage in a meaningful activity.
Children don’t look at the long-term results. They see the short-term expectations. That’s why when it is weeding day in the garden, you’ll receive protests aplenty. The chores of a garden aren’t always fun. Then, when you do get the fresh produce, kids see icky-tasting dishes in their future instead of a healthy meal.
By understanding this difference in perspective, it becomes easier to get kids involved in gardening. Here are some more ways to increase the excitement of gardening from a child’s perspective to consider as well.
#1. Start from the beginning. Kids get excited about gardening when they can take ownership of the process from the very beginning. Instead of handing children seed packets to plant, let them choose which seeds they want to plant. Even if you present a series of 3-4 different options, letting the kids have control over this critical first step will help you create engagement with the process right away.
#2. Give them their own plot. Instead of forcing kids to work the entire garden with you, give them their own small plot to work. Even if you give them a small container, it is something that they can call their own. Go to your local nursery, let them choose something they’d like to help grow, and then let them plant it. Step in to help only if absolutely necessary. Hands-on learning in the dirt really brings kids into the fun that gardening can be.
#3. Plant a variety of different items. We can get into a routine with gardening where we only plant the same things each year. Kids like to experiment and have more variety. Think about adding things like sunflowers, nasturtiums, and potatoes to your garden this year. Corn is another fun option to grow because kids like to compare the height of the stalks to their height.
#4. Create a theme garden. Planting a garden around a child’s favorite things to eat can encourage interest in gardening as well. One of the most popular garden themes is the Pizza Garden. You would plant oregano, basil, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables or herbs that are loved on a pizza. As for planting the pepperoni, you can get creative with your answers there.
#5. Work with gardening clubs. Backyard gardens can be a lot of fun. There are also several gardening clubs that can extend the love of gardening to the rest of the community. Consider joining your local 4-H Club. You could work with your church to host a gardening workshop. You might even think about starting your own community garden too. Kids love to get involved in projects that help people and this option fits the bill nicely. That extends their love of gardening beyond the home.
#6. Let them work with real tools. We want our children to be protected from harm. We also need to let our children begin to develop real skills using real tools at some point. The garden is one of the best places to do that. Get rid of the plastic trowel and rake and let them use the real deal. Those plastic tools tend to break when they’re used frequently too, which means there is a practical side to this as well. You’ll usually see harder work happen when those “kid tools” are put away because you’re telling kids that you trust them.
#7. Help them just as they help you. Weeds need to be pulled. Plants need to be watered. Adults tend to ask children to help them with the garden, then let the kids work on their own in their own space. Reverse the process. Asking, “Can I help you with the weeding that needs to be done in your spot?” fosters the parent/child relationship and eliminates the “unfair argument” from the equation.
#8. Make a scarecrow. Some kids struggle to engage with gardening for a variety of reasons. They might have allergies that make it hard to go outside. They might not like to get dirty – it happens. You can still get kids engaged with gardening by having them make something for the garden. A scarecrow is always a good option. You can have them make plant signs, paint decorations, or even install mood lighting with solar lights in the garden if you wish. A contribution of any type is still progress in the right direction.
#9. Show off their space. Kids love it when you share their creations on social media. Take a picture of their garden to show off to their grandparents. Let them take their friends on a tour of their garden. When kids get positive attention from their hard work, they tend to stay engaged with that work for longer periods.
#10. Have them harvest the crops. When it comes time to pick the produce from the garden, let the kids do the picking work. You can do the heavy lifting part of carrying the fruits and vegetables being harvested. There is a certain joy which comes with the harvesting process because you’re going to be eating something that you worked to create. That moment, when the item is picked, is a feeling of success that isn’t replicated anywhere else. Letting them experience that success creates excitement for the next planting season.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t make a child fall in love with gardening. They must find their own love for this process. Encourage them to explore the art of gardening on their own, in their own way. Give them space. Let them make choices.
When they can take ownership, then they can learn life lessons which will continue to help them as they grow up too.