By Sara Reichstadt, Education Coordinator, Kinderberry Hill Child Development Centers
To children, the best gifts from the garden may not be the flowers and vegetables, but rather the beautiful hands-on experiment, full of “what ifs” and wonders, exploration, and play! Children don’t burden themselves with worrying about a plentiful crop. They are simply interested in “right now”! Their gears are always turning. . . “What changed?”, “What can I try?”, “Can I touch it?”, “Pick it?”, “Eat it?”. This is the magic of gardening with children; the many opportunities to experiment and explore nature.
Getting Started. . .
To get started, chat with your child and share ideas about what types of plants they may want to grow. You’ll want to limit these choices to items you have already deemed manageable for your space. Try to pick plants that are hardy for children to walk through, stumble over, and sit among. Grasses, chives, green beans, zinnias, and even our old rhubarb plant are a few of my family’s favorites, as they are hardy for the tending of little hands and provide great spaces to play.
As with any new gardener, there is a learning curve. (Still working on mine!) This may not be the garden that produces that prize winning tomato, but it will most certainly produce prize worthy amounts of discovery and fun!
Creating a Child Friendly Garden Space. . .
When talking about a child friendly garden space, I’m referring to a place where children can walk where their little feet desire, try new things, and even make (what we might call) “mistakes”. It is quite interesting to see the roots of a bean plant with the bean shell still attached, however this can only be found if you dare to pluck a young sprout too soon! . . . And a new experiment begins: “If we put it back, will it still grow?”
Make sure children have ample hands-on opportunities to care for the plants and space. A specific spot just for digging may be beneficial, as this is often a favorite activity of young gardeners. Giving them their own gloves and watering can promotes ownership and responsibility. Beware! You may be surprised by what they find beautiful and precious. My own children cherished the sunny dandelions and would make sure to water them with the rest of their crop!
Try to create spaces for you and your child to sit and enjoy the “quiet” of the garden. (Though these moments may be fleeting!) Small stools, rocks, stepping stones, or even old milk crates are nice places for children to sit and take in the sounds, smells, and tastes all around them. It is always more fun for children to be completely in, and surrounded by the garden, than to simply stand outside and look! For those of you feeling ambitious, the green bean tee-pee would create this perfect space for you. (Rabbits took our tee-pee last year, but due to popular demand, we are trying a new strategy and giving it another “go”. . . the experiment continues!)
A Few Built-In Surprises!
Inviting even more nature to your garden is always a plus. Adding bird baths or feeders allow children to experience the different birds and birdsong of their own backyard. Bug houses are always a hit as they take little time to fill with busy tenants, and small shovels come in handy for spur of the moment worm digging!
Finally, putting a bucket filled with loose parts such as wood rounds, sea shells, pine cones, small rocks, toy cars, dinosaurs, or fairies will allow your child to create their own fantasy play and truly enjoy being surrounded by the nature growing in their garden. They will love building seashell roads alongside the green beans or tucking the fairy to sleep under a dandelion. (If you too, are lucky enough to sprout one of those rare garden beauties!)