Peas or petunias? How to get kids excited about gardening
As parents, caregivers, and adults with children in our lives, we want to see our children learn and grow. Gardening provides a great opportunity for this because it exposes children to nature and helps them learn invaluable skills in the garden as well as in other parts of life.
When working with children on a new skill, it will be important to keep it fun, keep it simple, and keep it believable.
Make it fun
Kids like things to be fun! As you plan together, see what interests them and what excites them. They may lean towards large, showy flowers such as sunflowers or zinnias. Maybe they want to grow something they can eat like tomatoes, peppers, beans or cucumbers.
Perhaps they will find fun creating a wildflower garden to monitor the arrival of different pollinators. What makes their eyes light up when you talk about it? do it! Start with something that really catches their attention.
Keep it simple
This may be one of the hardest parts, but don’t overdo it! Start small and simple. Keeping it simple will help achieve success – whether the plants thrive or not! If the plants are doing well, it will be encouraging and exciting. If the plants aren’t doing well, but you keep the plan simple, you’ll be able to debrief and talk about what you can do differently next time and try again!
If you start too many plants too quickly, it will be difficult to keep up with everything you have planted. So, to begin with, you can clear a small space to grow your flowers or food so that you can go out and look at them, care for them and enjoy watching them grow. Or you can start growing them in pots so they can be easily controlled.
If you start in pots, you can also adjust their placement based on the sunlight needs of the particular plant you are growing that season. You can also decide whether to start from seed (Pro: You can get involved and learn about the entire life cycle/Con: It takes longer to get “results”) or by obtaining a young plant from a local nursery (Pro: You have access to flowers Or vegetables faster and you don’t have to plan ahead/cons: you won’t be able to start from the beginning).
Keep it reasonable
Growing plants is fun and rewarding! It can be disappointing and also confusing when things you expected don’t happen. Embrace it as a permanent relationship with the Earth, like any other, requiring your time, effort, and care. Expect that not every step will be easy, but leave room for moments like this.
Engage in open conversations with your kids while you’re on the go. They will want the plants to sprout the next day, but it may take a week or more. Help them understand this visually, perhaps by making a paper chain of the number of days until germination (when the seeds sprout), information you can find on the seed packet.
Gardening with kids doesn’t have to be perfect – in fact, it won’t be! Plan to grow some plants without labeling them, or plants that become so loved because they are watered four times a day by an enthusiastic gardener, or vegetables that are brought in before they are fully ripe because your child just got too excited!
Gardening with kids is messy and messy, but it’s also a gift to watch kids explore the world around them and learn how to work with the earth to create beauty and food.
Elizabeth Joy Hooker is a Master Gardener volunteer for UF/IFAS Leon County Extension, an equal opportunity organization. For gardening-related questions, email AskAMasterGardener@ifas.ufl.edu.