I remember the first summer we lived here watching my then 2-year-old son, cautiously enter into the area filled with weeds and few wild zucchinis left by the previous owner. He was nervous and wary of the life humming in its depths.
However years of looking for the biggest worm . . . or finding huge tomato hook worm caterpillers to feed to the chickens have since cured him of his fear. By the time he was four he would walk boldly in to pick the first peas for a snack.
Gardening has always been an integral part of our family life. As I’ve noted, according to my calculations, Family + Garden = Health you can’t get anywhere else. It grows sound bodies and minds as well as food. And gardening has been integral to my home business success as well.
My children are about 50% made up of food from the garden (this includes a good dose of dirt and maybe a few stray aphids!). But they haven’t only enjoyed the harvest on their dinner plates, they’ve been an integral part of the gardening crew.
However, bringing kids into gardening can be a challenge. In two ways.
- On one hand, you want to find garden activities for kids that inspire a love and interest in growing things. The garden is an incredible learning spot, a means of self-reliance, a source of calm, a spot to think, and way to stay healthy and physically active. I certainly hope that when they grow up my children will adopt my love of growing our food and become avid gardeners themselves.
But gardening with kids isn’t just about fun . . .
- On the other hand, gardening isn’t just a form of recreation. In our household it’s part of how we feed ourselves as a family. Since we raise a significant amount of our food in our garden, I expect my kids to help out. And even if you don’t have a huge garden, when you bring kids into the work of tending it, it’s another way to bring them into contributing to the household work and learning responsibility. That being said – especially when they are young – finding the right garden work for children can be a challenge. You don’t want all the baby leeks weeded up in an enthusiastic frenzy!
This post covers both aspects. First it covers some activities that help inspire love and interest in the garden. The second part notes some great garden chores just for kids.
- Also if you need some extra help, check out the best gardening books to help you get going.
Fun Garden Activities For Kids To Inspire A Love Of Gardening
Garden Activity For Kids #1: Let Them Plant Their Own Garden
For a couple years, my daughter had her own patch in the garden. It wasn’t very big, or well tended. But it was hers. Her spot to do what mom was doing. I think she enjoyed the busy-ness of digging and watering as much as anything. And to tell you the truth – I don’t think much came of it in terms of harvest except for a luscious growth of weeds. But for several years, she was enthusiastic simply about digging and watering her little patch of earth and watching things grow, even if she didn’t plant them.
Garden Activity For Kids #2: Plant “Baby” Veggies
Kids love small stuff. It looks like it was made just for them. So plant carrots, potatoes and zucchini to harvest early, baby corn, cherry tomatoes, and lemon cucumbers. For years, my daughter loved thinning the carrots with me so she could nibble on all the little baby carrots that we found.
Garden Activity For Kids #3: Plant Easy, Quick Plants
Some plants make gardening easy with quick gratification. Lettuce, radishes, carrots, beans and peas are easy and take little time to mature enough to snack on. Better yet, they also require no cooking. But they can spark some extra creativity. Which leads me to . . .
Garden Activity For Kids #4: Create Great Salads
Salad dressings and dips are fun cooking adventures for kids – especially since they require no cooking. One afternoon I told my utterly-bored children I had to write and sent them off to manage on their own. I heard a few rumblings in the kitchen but decided to ignore it, optimistically hoping for the best. Lo and behold, my kids surprised me with an array of dressings they had created. They couldn’t wait to go out to the garden to pick salad fixings to finish off the feast.
You can also stir up some creative, tasty dips like our Fit Family Together favorite hummus.
Garden Activity For Kids #5: Create Hideaways
There is nothing as magical to a child than having a special hidden spot where you can watch the world in secret. The bean pole tipis have been one of the kids’ favorite places to hide out. The thick foliage created the perfect haven and a mat of grass clipping mulch made a good seat. Best of all, while they hid, they munched on beans within easy picking reach.
To make a beanpole tipi, just cut 4 saplings to about 7 feet in length. Trim off any branches. Lay the 4 poles together and tie one end slightly loosely with rope or twine. Then, tip the structure up over your garden bed and splay out the 4 legs so you have a tipi. Push the ends down into the soil until the whole tipi feels stable. And then wind twine around it at intervals of 4-6 inches. Make sure you leave one side open for several feet from the ground so there’s an entrance. Once, the structure’s up, plant your beans (we love rattlesnake or dragon tongues!). Just follow the 3 closed sides planting right below the first set of twine.
Garden Activity For Kids #6: Encourage Them To Become Experts
For many years, my son was the garlic planting expert. I gave him two sticks – one was the length of how deep he should plant the cloves and one was the length between each clove. All he had to do was hold his stick next to the clove to measure depth and lay the other one between each set of cloves. I could leave him with a bag of garlic and let him go to work, carefully measuring and planting.
Imagine his pride to see the tall, strong looking garlic he planted the next spring.
Helpful Gardening Activities For Kids’ Chores
While certainly you want to find ways to encourage them to garden – life isn’t all about fun. So we’ve made gardening a regular part of our family life and the chores we do together. Early on my children have had to learn to get the work done well. And they can feel a sense of pride when we comment on how many potatoes we have stored up for winter.
Here are some of the best kid-friendly garden chores based on our decade of experience . . .
Helpful Garden Activity For Kids #1: Plant Big Seeds
Planting can be tricky for little fingers since seeds slip so easily through. That’s why initially I had my kids help plant potatoes, garlic, peas, beans, corn and squash. These are all seeds they can manage easily. As I mentioned earlier, I usually give them two sticks to use for measuring depth and intervals. Sometimes if the depth or intervals are too short for sticks, I’ve shown them where to measure using their finger joints or multiple finger widths as reference points.
Helpful Garden Activity For Kids #2: Weed Big Plants
You can see a trend developing here – I’ve had one enthusiastic weeder take out a whole row of leeks mistaken for grass. Give your children weeding chores around big plants that have really established themselves so it’s easier to distinguish between weed and vegetable. Even with this precaution, however, I make a point of teaching my kids how to identify weeds. And sometimes we’ll work side by side in trickier territory so they can easily ask me and I can supervise better.
Helpful Garden Activity For Kids #3: Mulch
It’s funny how kids can take such care in mulching – I think it evokes a sense of tucking the plants in. Again, it’s important to give your children this chore only if the desirable plants are large enough to survive a little aggressive mulching and stand out.
Helpful Garden Activity For Kids #4: Bug Patrol
When I worked as a farmer’s apprentice decades ago, the whole 3rd and 4th grade came one morning to pick potato bugs for us. That tradition has continued. Potato bug picking has been an ongoing chore for my children. They thoroughly dislike handling the slimy larvae so I’ve found small gloves and allowed them to get a little creative in their other protective measures as you can see in the picture.
Some children may not mind squishing bugs and larvae. But for my crew, that was too yucky so I armed them with old yogurt containers with a few inches of soapy water to drop the bugs in.
Going beyond potatoes, my warrior son loves patrolling the garden for other interlopers. I’ve armed him with a spray bottle filled with soapy water and pointed out the trouble spots. The soap (just dishsoap) causes the bugs to suffocate. He’s taken care of squash bugs, aphids and bean beetles this way.
Helpful Gardening Activity For Kids #5: Harvest
Every year we freeze buckets of greens, especially our favorite weed, lambsquarters. The kids are sent off with a 5 gallon bucket, clear instructions and a demonstration on what to look for and then we end with urging them to get back here first with a good bucketful. Certainly, I have to keep a sharp eye out as I wash and blanch the harvest for unwanted leaves. But with some practice, they’ve become pretty good pickers.
Peas, beans, corn, tomatoes . . . all are great for kids to pick. Carrots and potatoes have an added aura of treasure hunting. You can fork up the soil and let the little ones dig around until they pull of a triumphant find! Which brings us the final job kids can help out with . . .
Helpful Gardening Activity For Kids #6: Wash and Prep
Those earthy treasures – carrots, garlic, potatoes, rutabaga and parsnips – need a good cleaning before cooking or storage. We simply spread them out on the lawn and hand the sprayer over to one of our helpers. You’d be amazed at how thoroughly these veggies get washed! For leafy greens we set up several wash bucket stations where they can dunk the leafy greens in fresh water and transfer them to colanders before I blanch them. And finally, they help pull the blanched veggies from the ice water, squeeze out the excess water and put them in bags.
Gardening Is One Of The Best Activities For Kids!
I’m a firm believer that while exercise is great for kids – exercise while getting a job done is even better! In our virtual world, we’re losing the perspective hands-on work gives us. For children, tangible work can give them a very real sense of pride and help them get a handle on the real world and what it takes to live.
Gardening provides the perfect opportunity to do this while growing good healthy food for growing bodies!
Got some great gardening activities for kids to share? Please do below and let’s put them to work!
About Sarah Clachar And Fit Family Together
Since expecting their first Since expecting their first child, Sarah and her husband Cassius have made fitness a core part of their family life. From biking to hiking . . . from the heart of New York City to a farm in New England, they have found a way to stay active together. And through all this exercising as a family they discovered that family fitness builds not only strong bodies – but stronger families.
A professional health writer with a BA in biology, gardener and foodie Sarah brings a wealth of expertise in nutrition and health. A personal trainer and inveterate tinkerer, Cassius brings innovation to making family fitness work.
Ready to make family fitness part of your family life? Take the Fit Family Together 7 Day Family Fitness Challenge and put your own family fitness plan together.