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A Guide to Gardening with Kids

Shauna Mann

Posted on June 27 2018

Gardening with Kids:  A Parents' Guide

Why Garden with Kids?

As all parents, we want to enrich our children’s lives and provide them with exceptional experiences. Three years ago, we set off on an adventure with the sole purpose of exposing our kiddos to a different way of living. It was not a trip to foreign country; it wasn’t even out of the state. We began our journey in our west-facing side yard that is filled with open space and sun.

My husband and I decided we wanted to teach our children where food came from. We wanted them to see, experience, and understand the process. It is easy to think, especially in America, that food is abundant, beautiful, and immediate.  This of course is a result of marketing, not reality.

Getting Kids Interested in Gardening

We had recently moved from an apartment in Seattle and had no experience gardening. In fact, I honestly struggle to keep houseplants alive! I felt totally overwhelmed. I wanted to research crop rotation and planting seasons.  I wanted to know everything that I knew I didn’t know. But I had to accept that the garden was for the kids and it would be kid-friendly, not perfect. We planted what our kids would eat and be interested in. We grew sugar snap pea, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries, pumpkins, and carrots.  I have no idea still about crop rotation, soil amendments and we definitely cut our raspberries back too far this season, but my kids are learning about food. 

My kids are not into chores, but they are interested in experiences. Kids should not feel like the garden is work, but to feel they are discovering every time they work in it. I chooses my words carefully when I am heading out. I invite them to join me and ask what we might find today, so it sounds like a fun exploration. Nothing is off limits. We make it fun by pulling up young carrots to see how they are growing, and trying strawberries before they are ripe. It is all learning. 

Positive Effects of Kids Gardening

My kids eat ugly strawberries and carrots that would have never made their way to our grocery store, but they do not care since they harvested them. They hunt through vines to find snap peas. They get dirty pulling weeds and digging holes in the soil. We carve pumpkins that we grew. As a family we take time to plant, water, weed, and harvest. My kids (and us parents) are experiencing that growing food is difficult; it takes energy, patience, and planning.

Three years in, we still have no real idea of what we are doing. But our ambitions of exposing our children to the reality of growing food have been achieved. We have learned which strawberries varieties grow well, that we need netting to keep the deer out even in a city, and that you can never have enough tomatoes. Our kids are excited to eat the things they have grown, so we will be trying new veggies next year. So whether it is a potted tomato plants on a deck or raised beds in the side yard, let go of needing to be an expert and embrace the messiness of the unknown. It is well worth the investment.

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