Tips to Make Gardening Fun for Kids

Create a class of students who all love to garden!  Here are some tips:

  • Younger students have smaller attention spans; try not to overwhelm them with too large of garden plots, or plants that need extensive maintenance, and expect to spend some of your own time with maintenance tasks that are too difficult for them to totally complete on their own (such as pruning and weeding).  Younger kids will definitely enjoy digging holes, watering (it works best if you can acquire many small watering cans), harvesting, and spreading hay over the paths.
  • Try to create games to make maintenance more fun, like weeding races.
  • Immediate gratification definitely helps:  plant seeds that germinate quickly, like beans, radishes, and sunflower seeds.  But also teach the value of patience with planting some spring bulbs in the fall.
Growing radish plants
Radish plants ready for harvest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Grow more than one of every plant whenever possible, so that students are not too disappointed if one dies.
  • To help overcome bug phobias, learn about bugs that are helpful to the garden and observe/interact with them whenever possible.
  • Include a section of the garden with some sturdy fragrance plants for students to touch and smell, like mint, rosemary, thyme, chives, basil, scented geraniums (lemon or mint chocolate are both popular), and lavender.

    Mint leaves.
    Mint leaves. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Engage children’s senses with plants that are also interesting to touch.  Lamb’s ear has nice fuzzy soft leaves, hen and chicks have interesting stiff succulent leaves, the sensitive plant which actually curls its leaves when touched, pasque flower for its soft furry seed heads, fuzzy mosses, pussy willows, and the chinese lantern, with papery globes around its seeds. Snapdragons can “talk” when pinched gently!  For more ideas of what to plant, check out my article on creating a sensory garden.
  • Stachys byzantina, "Lamb's ear" (flo...
    The soft fuzzy leaves of Lamb’s Ear (photo credit: Wikipedia)
Globe from a Chinese Lantern Plant (Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis; Used with permission of Microsoft)
  • If you have space, try to include a space for plants that attract butterflies (this website may help you find plants for your area).  Learn to find caterpillar eggs under the leaves and bring them inside to watch the life cycle of the caterpillar.
  • Be mindful of student’s endurance in the hot sun.  I try to alternate activities in the sun with activities in the shade (or indoors).  Use a nozzle for the hose that has a mist setting and let kids cool down with a little mist on hot days.
  • Allow a day to harvest and donate all the food to a local organization while teaching students about giving back to their community.
  • Raised beds make tasks like weeding and planting a bit more manageable.  Plant clover on the slanted sides of the bed to help prevent weeds and erosion.
  • Flowers like zinnias, cosmos, salvia, and snapdragons all produce even more flowers when picked.  Black eyed susans and daisies are easy to grow and produce so many flowers that they can endure lots of cuttings as well.  Flowers like nasturtium, violets, lavender, and chamomile are edible and teach students that we use all the parts of plants.
    Zinnia from Lalbagh Garden, Bangalore, INDIA d...
    Zinnia (photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Snapdragon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Visit the garden often to discover its rewards:  seedlings popping up, buds opening, bees and butterflies pollinating, first zucchini appearing.  Create scavenger hunts to help students notice new changes. Keep a journal to record observations.
  • Use the diversity of plants as a jumping off point to discuss the diversity of people and students and appreciating differences in everyone.
  • Everyone loves to harvest!!!  Make sure that you have plants that produce harvest regularly while you’re waiting for exciting vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli, or  zucchini to be ready:  kale, swiss chard, lettuce, nasturtium, and basil produce continuous harvests.  Plant root vegetables regularly and you will have a regular harvest yield of them:  radishes, beets, carrots, and turnips are all fairly quick to grow and are immensely satisfying to pull out of the ground when harvesting!
  • Create a plant journal or scrapbook, draw plants, write poems, press leaves and flowers, play games, sing songs about the garden, have students decorate signs for the garden plots, cook and eat harvests introducing students to new foods, and allow students to take home some harvested vegetables for their parents to cook as often as possible.
  • Use your garden as a jumping off point for as many cross-curricular activities as possible:   encourage research in topics students are interested in; read poetry about plants and bugs; teach about the three sisters plants that Native Americans used to grow; create real world, project based math activities (how many seeds should we buy to fill up this plot?, measure plant growth and create graphs); research where plants you are growing originated from;  teach about your habitat and plants native to your area; and learn about composting, organic gardening, buying locally grown produce, and the impact these actions can have on your community.

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