It’s officially planting season in St. Louis! The risk of frost has long since passed, along with a very wet early spring. The benefits of gardening on people of all ages are many; getting out into the garden on a regular basis keeps you active and improves hand strength and dexterity, can boost your mood, reduces stress levels, and even help regulate your immune system. Gardening teaches responsibility and cause-and-effect, as well as a great appreciation for nature and its workings. Plus, if you decide to grow vegetables, your children are more likely to eat them if they aided in planting them in the first place! Below, some tips on getting into the garden with young children. Lower your expectations
With young children, expect a big mess and not much actual help. Drop the goal of having your toddler or preschool-aged child help you do every single thing. Instead, set up most of the job ahead of time, and let them enter to do a certain task. Expect that they will become distracted and want to play in the dirt instead. This is okay, and actually quite healthy!
Start with a Seed
A great way to introduce children to gardening can happen indoors! Start a “growing jar” by placing a few wet paper towels into a large jar, gently tucking a few fast-growing seeds (pole beans are a great option) between the side of the jar and the wet paper towel, and placing the jar by a sunny window. Leave the jar lid off, and keep the paper towels moist, adding water every day if needed. Your child can check the daily growth of your bean plant by simply observing what happens as it sprouts!
Invest in Child-Sized Gardening Tools
Just as there are child-sized dustpans, brushes, brooms, and other Montessori materials, there are plenty of child-sized gardening tools*! Avoid the cheap plastic versions that won’t actually do the work of digging and hoeing, and instead provide your child with smaller versions of the real thing. They will enjoy using real shovels to help dig holes for small plants, a small wheelbarrow for transporting dirt, or hoes to break up tough soil. Teach them how to use the tools safely, and demonstrate what each tool is used for. *If you plan to order these tools, be sure to talk to the school, as there are benefits to ordering through your local school instead of online!
Consider Starting with Containers
You don’t need a big yard or plot of land to teach children about gardening. If you’re new to it yourself, consider filling a few big pots on a patio or porch with tomatoes, strawberries, lettuces, or a variety of herbs. If you decide to grow a container garden, be sure to use big pots, as the soil will dry out much more quickly than if it were in the ground. Enlist your child to be in charge of watering the container plants every morning (avoid watering at night, as it attracts mold, slugs, and snails). Giving her the responsibility of a daily chore in the morning can boost confidence and make a child feel important.
Get Out into the Garden Yourself!
Children watch us constantly, mimic what we do, and take cues from how we spend our time and the attitudes we have surrounding the tasks we engage in. If you show delight and joy in gardening, chances are, your children will too!