Gardening is a healthy, fun activity that kids of every age can enjoy. Gardening offers wonderful opportunities for children to play, learn and grow, and there is no greater joy than that from a child who has cultivated plants from their own vegetable garden. Kids are curious by nature and they can develop new skills, have fun, and build self-confidence by digging in the dirt, tending to plants and watching them grow. Participating in a full range of gardening from seed to table is also a great way to get children engaged with healthy food and help them to learn lifelong healthy eating habits.
Read on to find out more about starting a garden with your children and how they can develop a passion for fresh fruits and veggies from growing their own food.
Kids learn from growing things
Gardening offers a wonderful introduction to the scientific world, and particularly that of botany, biology, and chemistry. When children plant their first seeds they want to know what will happen next. By monitoring the progress every day, kids are learning the basic steps of the scientific process without even realizing it. The wonder of seeing a garden grow provides science lessons right at home. Throw in some math by having them measure how much plants are growing from day to day or by counting the leaves on each plant. Gardening is also great for instilling a sense of responsibility in kids by learning that they have to take care of their seedlings each day in order for them to become healthy plants.
Encourages healthy eating
Growing, preparing, and eating fresh vegetables and fruits from their own gardening efforts is a great way to get kids engaged with healthy food. Planting seeds, watching them sprout, and harvesting what they have grown will help them to appreciate the origins of food and actually enjoy their veggies. Kids love being able to sit at the table and say they grew the carrots or beans being served for dinner. Whether you and your child only grow a handful of herbs this year or if you have a whole garden bursting with seasonal produce, they will have a sense of pride in eating what they have helped to create. In turn, this will emphasize the importance of a healthy diet. Before you know it, your kids will soon learn to love eating strawberries, lettuce, and even zucchini!
Consider your space
The first thing you need to decide is where you'll plant your garden. Locate it in a spot that’s easily accessible to your child but in a place where you can see it also. Ideally, this is an area that gets plenty of sunlight and has an ample water supply. You could start with a small plot in the backyard and have your child help you find the best location by asking them to monitor the movement of sun and shade in various proposed sites. Do you live in an apartment with only a windowsill or small balcony? Having only a small space doesn’t mean you can’t grow your own food. Sprouts and herbs thrive on a sunny windowsill and kids love them because they grow quickly. Balconies can come alive with a colorful array of potted vegetables, fragrant citrus plants in large pots or hanging baskets filled with an assortment of herbs, which children will delight in smelling and tasting. As for the layout, vegetable gardens for kids should allow for imagination. Encourage your child to be creative with the design and make it unique to them.
Plant selection for children
Now you are ready to pick your plant varieties. Start with produce that is easy to grow, such as herbs or leafy greens. Also try baby carrots, beets, summer squash, and broccoli as they are fast-growing and get quick results. Taller vegetables like broad beans and peas can be planted with a simple trellis on a north-facing wall. Plant what your kids like to eat, but also try something they haven’t eaten before, as trying a new vegetable is far more tempting when you have grown it yourself. To make sure you have a constant supply of fresh produce, try succession planting. To avoid ending up with a glut of one particular vegetable, get your kids to plant just a few seeds or seedlings every week. Shortage of sun? If you don’t have the 6 plus hours of daily sun many vegetables need, you can still grow salad and leafy greens such as arugula, spinach, cabbage, celery, and kale. Choose fun vegetable varieties—letting children select uncommon varieties of traditional veggies can make them more interested in eating these healthy foods.
Keep it fun
Now you are ready to get to it with the whole family. Plan a trip to the nursery to pick up seeds, or you can try seed swapping with friends. If you are planting directly in the ground, you will need at least one decent shovel. If you are planning on using containers or grow bags which are ideal for smaller areas and can be moved around, you will have to get potting mix. Gardens need regular care, so make spending time in the veggie patch part of your kid’s daily routine. Letting children help with soil preparation, seed planting, watering, weeding, routine maintenance and harvesting not only gives families a unique opportunity to spend time together, but it helps kids develop an understanding of that which they are fascinated by—nature. Most of all, remember to keep it fun. Sites such as PBS Kids offer some great vegetable planting games that keep children interested in the exciting journey of becoming a gardener.
Growing food in a home garden is a fantastic activity that everyone in your family will enjoy, especially your kids, and afterward, you can gather in the kitchen and around the dinner table to share and celebrate a meal created with the bounty of fresh produce that you grew together.