Kids gardening is both enjoyable & challenging
I get asked all the time ‘how do you garden with little kids around?’
A huge part of kids gardening is giving them space but also activities for them to do
This post is full of ways to garden with a baby, a toddler, preschool age kids & older kids gardening. Check out this post too on the best crops for kids to grow (& for little hands to harvest!)
What it’s like to garden with kids
Our 5-year-old daughter is shelling peas for her 2.5-year-old younger sister. It took a little practice & patience, some real-life hand to eye coordination but she got it in the end. Peas are a vegetable they’ve both previously refused to eat (kids really do eat more veggies if you grow them!). After seeing the miracle of a pea pod growing from a flower, talking about how the bees pollinate our food for us, and seeing that pod plump up full of bright green peas, both our daughters are eating homegrown peas fresh, raw and out of the shell. It keeps them busy while I get a little weeding done.
I’d like to tell you that all gardening with children is this magical. The days are full of fresh food, little hands harvesting and carrying baskets and preparing food together.
In reality, it’s both the magic of days like this mixed with a little chaos that makes gardening with babies and young children an enjoyable but challenging adventure.
Because I could also tell you stories of a mischievous 2-year-old that pulled up all the tags that marked which of my Brassica plants were which and then I had no idea what was a broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage plant. Or the time a friend sent their kids to harvest cucumbers from the greenhouse and they harvested all the premature baby watermelons instead, ruining an entire summer crop in one swoop!
Why you should *try* to garden with young children
One of the most wonderful aspects of home gardening is creating engrained food connection memories for your children. In most countries around the world the majority of kids have no idea where their food comes from, other than the grocery store (and the same goes for many adults). The further removed we get from our food, the less we understand it and want to eat it. Children are naturally curious about everything and much of that curiosity is lost as they get older, so involving them when they’re young is beneficial.
Kids are full of discovery, but a lot of that learning is done hands-on and sometimes that can get in the way of your gardening tasks. They’re also busy little bodies, being done with something that excited them mere moments before, which means you often start something you didn’t get to finish.
Kids gardening activities
These activities are meant to keep your kids busy while you get some gardening done or for them to learn some gardening themselves.
Although toddlers tend to grab and get into everything in sight, as kids get older they can help and learn a lot about their food. Because of this I’ve organized activities based on your children’s age starting from baby through to toddler, preschool & up.
Gardening with Babies
I feel so blessed that my baby’s first foods came from homegrown produce. That being said it can be challenging to garden alongside your baby, here are some things that help:
- Take the baby for a stroller ride during nap time, park it in the shade once the baby falls asleep and get some weeding or harvesting done. Optional: Take a snooze in the shade with your baby (I’m not helping am I?).
- Baby wear! This is one of the best ways get anything done the first year. Be careful to bend your knees when crouching up and down to keep your back in check.
- Bring the exersaucer outside! Your baby will happily play for a little while contained inside this modern device and you can add some toys to keep them occupied. I’ve also brought the high chair outside into the garden with some toys.
- Make sure your baby is wearing a hat and is kept out of the direct sunshine when you’re gardening.
- Put the baby down for a nap then leave your spouse to look after the baby while you garden.
Oh what fun busy toddlers are! They are the hardest to garden with from my experience, but there are activities you can set them up with to give yourself a whole 10 mins of gardening (or maybe 30 mins if you’re lucky!).
- The sandbox is always a big hit with toddlers.
- Shallow paddling pool or any water play (scoops, toys & a tub of water for example) for warmer summer days.
- Let the hose or sprinkler run so the kids can splash in the water puddles.
- Shelling peas is something most 2 years old can do and is great for eye hand coordination. I open the pods first and then let their little hands pull out the peas and put them into a bowl.
- Harvesting is hard for them but give them a little basket anyways and give them something to put into it (just know it will likely end up on the ground so don’t give them anything you plan to eat). I’ve let our toddlers pick dandelions, grass, weeds. They don’t know the difference at this age but they think it’s fun nonetheless.
- You can give them gardening tools to play with but be warned that during the actual growing season you might (will?) lose crops. During the off-season I let our kids run all over the garden beds, dig wherever they like.
- If you have a specific area make a ‘kids garden’ so it doesn’t matter what crops get damaged.
- A watering can and rain boots are essential in making them feel like little gardeners. Watering is a nice task for a toddler to do, worse case scenario is that your plants get more water than they need (or your paths). With new seedlings it’s best to not let them water as they might damage the little plants. I often have a bucket of water and let them dip the watering can into it and then water the plants.
Pre-school & Kindergarten
This is my favorite age for gardening with kids as they love being involved with it all and they also learn a lot.
- Let them help you decide what to grow for the season. They can draw a picture of the garden and which fruits or veggies they’d like eat and grow.
- Get them involved with sowing the larger seeds (beans, squash, peas, melons and cucumbers for example). At the kindergarten age they can handle some lettuce or smaller seeds too.
- Let them scoop soil into seed starting pots and help with the watering.
- They can dig small holes for your transplants to go into. They can help measure the distances between plants needed (applied math!).
- In the springtime or fall they can help amend the beds with something like alfalfa pellets or garden leaves (just make sure nothing is toxic or too powdery like fertilizers).
- Any of the toddler activities are also great for keeping kids happy at this age if you want to get some weeding done: water play, sprinklers & sandboxes etc.
How to Make ‘Fairy Soup’
Get a large bucket of water and give them some wooden sticks and a harvesting basket. They harvest many flowers and certain plants or weeds (let them know what they can’t pick) and place them into the ‘soup’ bucket and stir with the wooden stick.
- Water in a spray bottle keeps them happy misting the plant leaves (don’t allow this with tomatoes & peppers though they will ‘burn’). A spray bottle with a little dish soap is also great for aphid pest removal from Brassicas.
- They are great little harvesters at this age. Baby greens, potatoes (we play ‘pirate treasure hunt’ and dig for buried for ‘golden potato treasure’), beans, peas, even tomatoes if they’re gentle enough. Berries are always a hit too although they get stained fingers. I often teach basic math and counting when harvesting too.
- Let them help wash veggies in the sink and prep meals.
- Let them eat fresh food from the garden in the garden! I’ve written about how much kids will love veggies if you grow them.
- Older kids can learn about the inside of seeds and how they sprout, pollination and soil worms. Here are some ideas on Pinterest for gardening with kids + spring activities & worksheet ideas.
Kids Gardening isn’t easy but it’s amazing!
I find that offering them these things can help make them feel like little gardeners:
- Gardening tools: little shovels, scoops, rakes.
- Get some pots for them to paint.
- Offer them a whole garden bed to themselves to sow. Even if it’s messy and chaotic!
- Rubber boots, a sun hat and rain clothes .
- Watering cans.
- Harvest baskets.
Final thoughts on kids gardening:
Let them get muddy, messy, dirty & have fun 🙂
My name is Isis Loran, creator of the Family Food Garden. I’ve been gardening for over 10 years now and push the limits of our zone 5 climates. I love growing heirlooms & experimenting with hundreds of varieties, season extending, crunchy homesteading and permaculture.