Kids in the Garden

Cultivate a crop of new gardeners by getting kids involved in growing edibles and ornamentals.

Kids in the Garden with Chickpeas :: Photos by Cecilia Nasti

I remember being transfixed watching my mother work in our backyard gardens. I'd stand nearby, hoping she would see me and give me a small task so I could help her. When she did, I was thrilled and took great pride in my accomplishments.

Looking back, I realize I wasn't nearly as helpful to my mother as I thought I was. Nevertheless, Mom encouraged my efforts while doing her best not to take over or redo my work, even though either of those things would have been quicker and made for a better looking garden. She used a light hand in her corrections as not to discourage me, and in so doing, she grew a gardener.

Girl with Gardening Book | Image by Cecilia Nasti

High Tech Meets High TouchWhen I was young, we didn't have the variety of technological distractions kids do today — being outside was our social media. So, my advice is to start kids young, before they've had their first taste of computer gaming and hand-held electronic devices that connect them with a wider world, yet keep them indoors.

Technology is here to stay, so if you cannot persuade the kids to put down their tablets, suggest they put them to use for the sake of gardening. Find gardening apps (some are free!) that can introduce children to the activity and lure them outdoors.

The organic gardening app Grow Garden opens in a new tab gives children the chance to work on a virtual farm to learn about environmental balance, growing food, making compost and feeding others. It won't take long before they want to try it in the real world.

Another app called iScape opens in a new tab lets users snap images of their yards to create a virtual landscape designs. It's a fun way for you and the kiddos to visualize the outcome and to get them (and you) excited about digging in.

Girl With Tomato Plant | Image by Cecilia Nasti

Involved = InvestedGet kids involved in everything from planning to harvesting. Bring them to plant nurseries with you, discuss the kinds of plants you might like to grow in your garden, and what those plants need to grow well. Then, let them make a few of the selections on their own. When kids are involved, they're invested.

Give kids a little patch of the garden that's all their own, whether it's for ornamental or edible plants. For apartment and condo dwellers, there's nothing like assigning your little one the care and feeding of several potted plants.

Many hands make light work, but tiny hands need a little help. If your new gardening buddy is very young, providing them with tools and tasks that fit their ability will keep them engaged, and help them feel capable and successful.  

Find child-sized tools online opens in a new tab. Children love items sized to fit them. With your guidance, in addition to gardening, they'll learn to be responsible for the upkeep of their new tools.

When planting seeds, look for large-seeded varieties of plants. You'll find those mostly in the edible category, like bean, squash, and okra seeds. They are easy for little hands to manage, and the plants that arise from them are child-pleasers.

Whether kids grow plants in pots or plots, getting them involved in gardening  — with or without technology  — grounds them, and provides them with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural world and their place in it.

When You Give a Little, They Grow a lot!

Whole Kids Foundation Logo

Whole Kids Foundation® opens in a new tab has provided 2,100+ school garden grants and built 3,300+ school salad bars in just three years! That's more than 2.5 million students with access to fresh fruits and veggies every school day. Want to help them grow? Donate today! opens in a new tabDid you garden as a child? Or what are some ways you've engaged young people to dig in the dirt and grow something beautiful or edible? Tell me about it in the comments section below.

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