Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Gardening with Children

By Luann Boyer
Morgan County Extension Agent - Family and Consumer Science

gardening with children

Spending time in the garden with children can provide a wonderful opportunity for grandparents. Working side by side is a great time for talking about lots of things, not just growing plants. Involving children of any age with growing plants doesn't have to be just a summer activity. It can be a means to work together on a project year around.

During the winter, spend time with children looking at seed catalogues and learning how plants grow. You can discuss different kinds of plants and climate zones and why the tomatoes in the grocery store in winter probably come from another part of the country or even another part of the world. Kids might want to try some plants that are not well adapted for the local climate. It's okay to let them experiment. They will learn from the challenge.

In early spring, take a walk together and talk about the space for the garden. By this time you'll have decided what you want to grow so talk about where you'll plant each vegetable or flower. You can make a map of the area and see how things will fit. With young children, be sure and leave ample room for them to walk in the garden without stepping on the plants. You can also teach children where things can be planted to take advantage of sunlight or shade.

Late spring and early summer is planting time. If you have room inside, take the opportunity to plant seeds and grow some of your own bedding plants. When the weather is right, start planting but remember that children probably won't last the day like an adult. Plan on this taking several days because you'll only be able to plant just a few types of veggies or flowers at a time. There will be another day for more.

Mulching plants helps keep weeds under control and preserve moisture. It also helps the kids from getting too tired from weeding and watering. As you care for the garden during the summer, don't do too much at a time. Plan on 10 to 15 minutes each day and choose a different area each day to work on together. You might get a gardening kit of child-sized tools for the children to make the work easier.

Besides the work keeping the garden growing well, you'll also be able to see the fruits of the work. Early plantings from May will be ready to harvest in mid to late June and by July, there should be an abundance of produce and/or flowers to enjoy. As the plants begin to form produce, spend time with the children explaining how pollination occurs, and what to watch for as the vegetables grow. They can also learn how to tell when it is ripe and how to harvest it correctly.

With lots of produce, now's the time to teach children how to prepare food and why each is good for health. Even very young children can be involved in food preparation with toddlers washing the produce and tearing lettuce for a salad; preschoolers shelling peas and husking corn; early elementary age slicing cucumbers and cubing tomatoes; and older elementary learning how to use the stove or microwave for cooking. You can also teach the children about food preservation, helping with basic tasks such as washing foods or filling containers for freezing or canning.

By fall, you'll have enjoyed a full summer of goodies from the garden. If you have root vegetables that can be mulched, the children can help you prepare those as you explain why they'll be stored in that manner. Children can help clean the remainder of the garden and compost the remains for next year.

For year-round activities on gardening with children, link to this website from Illinois Extension urbanext.illinois.edu/gpe/links/index.html

Updated Tuesday, August 05, 2014