Children are curious; they love to experiment and play in the dirt. How can we channel this energy into something positive? Gardening!! Gardening is a wonderful way for children to explore and experiment while playing in the dirt and learning life skills. Think about it for a moment. How good does it feel to work in the sun, get your hands dirty, watch a small seed sprout into a seedling and eat the warm vegetables? Children learn about life cycles, take responsibility in caring for their plants and experience what it means to contribute to family meals.
There are two things you need to think about when gardening with children. Young children don’t understand space constraints. To be successful, children need to have their own space and plant varieties of vegetables that grow easily. Raised beds that are 3 feet by 3 feet or their own large containers work best. Raised beds need at least 6-8 inches of good soil, as do big pots. Crumple up newspapers and place in the big pots to conserve soil. Use a vegetable garden soil mix that has fertilizer in it. Buy sunflowers, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, snow peas, pole green beans, carrots and pumpkins seeds that are easy to grow and liked by most children. Often the pickiest children will try a vegetable that they have grown. Have the children take popsicle sticks and copy the name of their seeds onto each one, to make markers for their garden. A small set of gloves and easy to handle gardening tools are important: a hand shovel, a small rake and a water container.
It is time now to plant snow peas, lettuce and other hardy vegetables. Check with a local garden store or the Internet for a listing of hardy vegetables and a planting guide for the last frost dates and when it is safe to plant at https://bonnieplants.com/library/which-veggies-for-which-season/.
You can start tomatoes, cucumbers, sunflowers, green beans and pumpkins from seeds in used yogurt cups or in egg cartons. Put them in a sunny window, spray lightly with water each day and watch them grow. Once the frost season is over, you can plant them directly into your garden. Pole green beans need some type of pole to grow up on, and sunflowers and tomatoes need support. Once planted in the ground, water every other day. To encourage butterflies and bees, plant milkweed and other flowery plants. Planting a few marigolds among the plants fights off bugs.
Supplement your child’s garden with your own plants of basil, onions, scallions and parsley. When the children’s tomatoes are ready, cut them up with garlic and onion, and mix with your basil and parsley for a quick salsa. Let the sunflower seed head dry out and put it flat on a deck railing or patio for the birds to take out the seeds to eat. Enjoy gardening with your children. It’s also a great time for conversations and learning about nature.
Anne E. Mead, M. Ed., is the administrator for the Early Childhood Education and Extended Learning Programs of the Danbury Public Schools. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact her at 203-830-6508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.