Parents have always been teachers also. Now, however, they're being asked to fill both roles full-time. Parents the world over have taken up the gauntlet of homeschooling and are using all the energy and resources available to them to make sure their children are not only happy and healthy, but well-educated too. Power to you, parents! We wanted to do our part to contribute to the new global motto: it takes a planet to raise a child. Luckily, we have some good news for you: your garden can be a teacher too! Not only does gardening with your children give them something to do (and help you with the workload!), but it can also tie in with their science lessons and teach them important skills and lessons about responsibility, leadership, and the circle of life. Bring a childlike wonder into the garden for your whole family.
BIG PICTURE FOR THE LITTLE ONES
Before making sure your kids are lathered up with sunscreen and wearing their sunhats, you'll probably want to have a sense of what will make gardening a positive experience for them. Here are some general considerations:
- Taste the rainbow: Inspire your children with a whole spectrum of colorful veggies and flowers. And don't just stick to what they know—one of the wonderful things about growing your own open-pollinated seeds is that you can find varieties to stoke the imagination. Try multicolored carrots, baby-blue corn, and purple tomatillos.
- Garden senses: And it's not just about the visuals: choose varieties that smell good (like basil), feel good (like Black Futsu Squash) and taste good (like watermelon). Learning in the garden is a unique and special experience, so make the most of the hands-on aspect.
- Easy peasy: Cater to kids' beginner skills, smaller hands, and less-practiced motor skills by choosing varieties that are easy to plant, grow, and harvest. Flowers like cosmos and zinnias are simple to grow and easy to cut for bouquets. Carrots, radishes, and potatoes are fun to pluck or dig out of the ground. Choose large seeds that are easy to handle: cucurbits, corn, peas, beans, and sunflowers are all perfect for little fingers to plant in the earth.
The sheer act of sowing seeds and watching them grow might be good enough for you and me, but children will be more inspired if they can fully engage their creative outlets, and if their expectations are exceeded or surprised. Try these fun projects with your kids:
- Painted pots: Container growing is a great option for kids: it's fun, easy, organized, and doesn't need much space. Bring your potted plants up to the next level by painting the containers—terracotta is best. All you'll need besides the pots are acrylic paints and brushes. Some tutorials recommend soaking, scrubbing, and drying your pots first, or sealing them before and/or after painting. It just depends on how eager little gardeners are to get started and how long you want the finished product to last.
- Tomatoes in a bucket: Turn what your kids know about growing on its head with this fun idea. Cut a hole in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket. Push the root ball of a tomato plant (cherry tomatoes are better for this project and more fun for kids). Fill the rest of the bucket with soil and hang it in a sunny spot. The tomato plant will grow outwards and downwards, giving kids the opportunity to reach up and pluck the fruit. A more complete tutorial can be found here.
- Bean teepee: Easier than a treehouse and more fun than a trellis! Give your kids a secret snack hideaway. Push 6-10 bamboo poles into the ground in a big circle, and lash them together with durable string or twine. Plant a bean seed on either side of each pole; make sure to choose a pole bean and not a bush bean. Alternatively, choose any vining plant, like morning glory or nasturtium—or mix and match! Read more here.
Ideally, what's going on in the garden will tie in with what kids are learning through their remote classrooms, and they'll get to experience photosynthesis and plant biology up close. But even if things don't line up that neatly, there's still plenty to be learned from growing a garden:
- Leadership: Consider creating a mini kids' garden and make your children responsible for caring for it. Help them find a routine for watering and harvesting. They'll enjoy what's grown even more if they can be proud of their hard work.
- Teamwork: Whether it's working alongside you or their siblings, there's always a balance to be struck.
- Life cycles: Gardening offers the unique opportunity to see the life of an organism from start to finish. Extend the lesson by saving some seeds to plant next season! We have plenty of articles on seed-saving—find a directory to them here.
- The followthrough: Once the harvest is done, bring the kiddos back into the dining room with a home-cooked meal and a centerpiece of flowers. Not only can cooking and flower arranging be fun activities, but it will help children realize all that goes into bringing them the food and flowers they normally enjoy.
For more ideas and resources, check out the website for Shelburne Farms and the blog for LifeLab. Good luck this spring, parents! We're wishing you well. May you stay sturdy as a sunflower, and may your children flourish just like your garden.