Survival Tips for Gardening with Young Children
Schools out, no more homework, no more after school activities to run to…it’s smooth sailing from here, right? Unfortunately for most, with that freedom also comes boredom and the ever constant question of “so what are we doing today?”. What do we do with our children when the economy has basically shot down our summertime plans for classes, schools, travel and activities in general? It’s tough to find productive activities for our kids to participate in and enjoy at the same time.
But all hope is not lost! Summertime can be a wonderful time to introduce your kids to gardening techniques that can allow them to be creative, productive, outdoors and contribute to something that will generally improve both the health and quality of the food they eat. Sweltering Arizona heat can make summertime a difficult time to start a garden. But there are some wonderful foods that can be grown here in the Phoenix summer, for instance Beans, Sweet Corn, Mexican June Corn, Muskmelon, Pumpkins, and Winter Squash. Sunflowers are also very popular with kids.
Gardening with small children can sometimes be very challenging but the benefits far outway the difficulties. The important thing to keep in mind if you want to minimize the frustration, is to pick jobs that are age appropriate when including smaller children in your gardening efforts. Each age group has something they can contribute to the gardening process which makes gardening a great activity for the whole family.
If you’ve ever chased your 2 or 3 year old out of a mud hole or caught them making that mudhole with the hose or other means of hauling large amounts of water, then you know very well the fascination that this age group has with water in general. They rarely miss an opportunity to play with water in any form whether that be the toilet or a puddle in the gutter. But gardening can allow you to channel this fascination and direct it to a more productive activity. Let your toddler be in charge of watering your garden! They also love to be helpful picking things up. Show them what a weed looks like and help them pull all the weeds from the garden. But be sure to keep a close eye on these little helpers…they can often get a little over ambitious and start pulling everything from the ground, including what you just finished planting!
4-5 year olds have a great curiosity about how the world works. This is a wonderful opportunity to give them their own little “garden” by designating a small area of your garden for a “surprise” plant that they can nuture from a seedling. Help them plant it and let them tend it. Don’t tell them what it is and let them anticipate it’s growth. They will be all the more interested in tending to it if they are trying to solve the mystery of what it could be. This is a great time to help them understand the process of a plants growth…they will see it’s daily progress and be able to share that excitement with you.
6-7 year olds are adept enough with their motor skills to contribute in more ways to the gardening process. Give them the job of creating a scarecrow for the garden. Give them some basic materials (straw, sticks, twine, burlap bag, old clothes, etc.) and let them use their very inventive minds to create something really special for their garden. You may have to relax your expectations just a bit but remember that whatever they come up with, it is sure to scare something away! Another fun project is to allow them to create the signs for each of your plants to help everyone remember what you are growing. They will love drawing pictures of what they think the plant will look like. You can also begin to talk to them about bugs and other creatures that contribute to the growth or demise of a garden. Here in Arizona, we have a few more critters to worry about than most (watch out for those snakes, ground squirrels and birds!).
Helping your kids understand that contributing to gardening as a family also benefits the entire family will help them feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Everyone gets something fun out of the activity whether as a part of the process or as a part of the result. Consider keeping a calendar or chore chart for little ones that reflect what part of the gardening they are responsible for. Print these for your kids and post them where they can see them each morning. You could even create monthly calendars that chart the types of things you can grow in your garden each part of the year. For a list of foods that grow well in the Phoenix climate, check out http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/mg/vegetable/regions13.html#1-3. Kids will have a great time anticipating the yummy foods that will be coming from their gardens! You will truly be amazed at how much fun they will have!