During the summer we are always looking for ways to get our children outside. What better way to build their skills than to garden with them? Creating a children’s garden is a great way to teach responsibility, a love of the outdoors and love of healthy foods, besides getting them physically active.
Lucy Jones, author of Losing Eden: Why Our Minds Need the Wild, wrote: “from our heads to our toes, spending time with nature can affect our emotional and psychological lives … The nervous system is more balanced in natural spaces. We’re more likely to recover from stress in nature. If we’re gardeners, beneficial microbes in the soil can enhance serotonin (the chemical in our brain that contributes to wellbeing and happiness), and the smell of the earth after it rains — which is called petrichor — affects the brain in mood enhancing ways.”
Here are some ways you can involve your child in gardening. Set up an area in your yard specifically for your child to garden. Children’s gardens can be a container garden or a small space set off to the side specifically for your child to play, work and explore. You also want to make it fun! You can incorporate a playhouse or get small gardening tools such as a wheelbarrow, shovel and hoe.
You want to encourage your children to feel ownership over their garden. Let them help pick out the seeds they are going to plant. Help them plant the seeds and water the plants. They can also get out and weed the garden. No matter what their age, they can learn these skills. This fosters a love of the outdoors and teaches responsibility.
Okay, you have your gardening area set up, but what are the best plants for a children’s garden? Plants should be fast-growing with a variety of colors and textures. Some examples are purple basil, lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, winter squash, cabbage, strawberries and kale, but you don’t have to have only fruits and vegetables in the garden. Having a variety of plants adds diversity for your children to experiment with.
It is fun to also include edible flowers. Nasturtiums, chives, chrysanthemums, dandelions and cornflower are just a few. However, it is especially important to teach your children that not all flowers are edible. Some can be extremely dangerous to eat. Ensure that they know they should only eat the flowers in their garden only after asking your permission first.
Another way to encourage kids to garden is to incorporate crafting activities into your day, especially if it is a rainy day outside. You can make gardening bottles out of water bottles (make sure an adult puts the holes in the lid). You can also make labels for each plant in your garden. If your child is too young to write, show them pictures of the plants and have them draw pictures of them. If you want to spend a little bit of money, craft stores have stepping stones that you can make to place in your child’s garden.
When gardening with your children it is important to practice safe gardening. Make sure that all gardening equipment that is not for children is kept in a secure space. Do not use any chemicals or insecticides on your child’s garden. Make sure all fences and gates are secured. Keep filled water buckets out of reach of small children. Ensure that your children are wearing appropriate clothes for the weather so that they do not get sunburned.
Gardening is not only fun, but it can be a learning activity too. You can count the number of plants that you have planted. You can learn colors from the variety of colors of plants. You learn about nature from the plants in the garden and the bugs and wildlife that live around your yard. Children learn cooperation from working with you to nurture the garden. They also learn about nutrition, because as they take pride and ownership in their garden they are more likely to want to eat what they grow. Children are also getting outside and being physically active, burning off calories and getting out in the sunshine. It is a win for everyone.
If you have any questions about gardening, contact the Cooperative Extension Service for more information.
Adrian Kohrt is a family nutrition coordinator for Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For questions, she can be contacted at email@example.com or 907-474-7930.