Let’s face it… toddlers love to get dirty! Teaching children to garden has many more benefits than developing fine and gross motor skills. They learn to follow basic instructions, “Dig a hole here please!”. They start to process the basics of how plants grow, “Please put these seeds in the hole and cover them up. Now lets water them.” They have fun because they can actually get dirty and play with water and we encourage it! Sunscreen, a hat, lots of kid sized tools and patience will give you a good start to the toddler gardening experience.
The first thing I am going to suggest is to remove any cellphones, PDA’s, iPods or anything that can get damaged by water. I always fully expect to get soaked when I garden with toddlers. Why? Because most kids love to help water and they point the hose where they are looking! “Look its a bird!” and for some reason the hose has to look straight up as well! This is a perfect activity on a very hot summer day. Then again if you have a watering can this helps eliminate the soaked factor, however, I still say keep electronics out of the way! I learned the hard way!
I prefer to grow edibles with children simply because they are more likely to try something they have grown in the garden. I focus on positive encouragement when it comes to food because its important to me that children keep the negatives off of the dinner table. Yes, most children will recoil at certain new foods and can be extremely picky but I think its all about how you present the foods. The right enthusiasm goes a long way. My daughter will not eat a bowl of yellow pear tomatoes or cherry tomatoes that I buy from the store. Actually, she won’t eat any kind of tomatoes that aren’t in marinara sauce or ketchup unless she picks them straight from the garden. I asked her once why she will eat what we grow and not what we buy and she said, “Because I worked hard to help you grow these… and they taste better.” I think she was indulging me on the first part though. Hmm.
Cucumbers, sunflowers, lettuce, corn, tomatoes, squash, pole and bush beans, peas and pumpkins are all fun to grow! Even a novice gardener with a very black thumb can grow these… with some help by the kids of course.
Keep gardening times short! You will want to give the kids tasks in 15 – 20 minute time frames. I break it all up with different activities and present it in a fun way… “Now we are going to fill these cups up with soil!” then “Okay kids lets play with bubbles!” and finally “Lets look in this bag of seeds. Can you put a few in the cups of soil?” Sometimes you have to put off a task for the next day. It all depends on the child(ren).
Gardening Duties for the Wee Ones:
- Pick out new plants or seeds (with some helpful positive direction of course!)
- Fill up cups, pots or recycled container (like yogurt cups with holes cut out) with soil
- Put seeds in soil and cover
- Put in marker (after you label them)
- Pull off dead heads. Give your kid(s) a basket and allow them to pick off all the dead flowers.
- Water the plants (dodge as much as you can!)
- Pull weeds! (Show the difference between seedlings and weeds)
- Collect worms!
- Harvest the goodies!
These are just some basic ideas to get you started. Figuring out how to get your toddler in tune with your garden is a forever evolving process. And, sometimes… no matter how much you try there will be destroyed flowers. They are, after all, toddlers.