How to get children gardening from a young age
I think children are natural gardeners. They favour hands-on activities, they’re innately curious about nature and the world around them, and they generally love the chance to get grubby. Gardening caters for all of this, and right from the toddler stage it’s perfectly possible for kids to get stuck in. I’ve been gardening with my own kids for almost ten years now, and I’ve learned a few tricks along the way for maintaining their interest and keeping it fun. If you’re looking for ways to get your children engaged with gardening here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Don’t take over
The first thing I learned when I started gardening with my eldest was to resist the urge to be a control freak. Gardening with children isn’t a tidy, ordered affair; they’ll want to do things themselves and in their own way, they’ll get distracted, and they’ll have fun, which inevitably means soil everywhere. It’s this enjoyment that will keep their interest though, so it’s really important to go with the flow and let them have a go without taking over every five minutes. When it comes to things like planting seeds and pulling up weeds you do need to give them some guidance though, and that’s not always easy when they’re enthusiastic and convinced they know best! I find that a really good tactic here is to show them, then ask them to show you; the appeal of getting to be the boss and tell the grown-ups how to do it usually means they pay attention very carefully!
2. Plant seeds with them
My kids have got involved with many different aspects of gardening, but their absolute favourite thing to do is grow plants from seed. I can understand why; there’s just something so magical about planting a seed, watering it, and watching a tiny little seedling emerge. Plus you’ve got the excitement and anticipation of looking forward to that moment of flowering or harvest. So if you only do one thing in the garden with your children, plant some seeds. Go for varieties that are easy to handle and forgiving of less-than-perfect planting and growing conditions; sweet peas, cosmos, nigella and rocket are all good options for little hands.
3. Choose sensory plants
In my experience, anything in the garden that really engages the senses is a big hit with children. We grow lots of tactile plants that the kids can explore with their hands; I’d recommend grasses (avoid any varieties with stiff, sharp-edged leaves), furry-leaved Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), succulents such as houseleeks, and fluffy-headed sunflowers (the ‘Teddy Bevar’ variety is particularly fab). Scented plants are another fantastic way to encourage kids to engage with the garden; sweet peas or lavender are great options, as are fragrant herbs such as rosemary and mint. You can explore sound too, with plants that rustle in the breeze, or produce seed pods that rattle when shaken.
4. Give them their own little plot
I think this has to be the thing that has made the most impact on my children’s attitude to gardening. It’s just amazing what a difference that sense of ownership and responsibility can make. You don’t have to give up lots of space; a little patch of earth or even a container will do. Encourage kids to decorate their plot, choose their plants or seeds, and write their own plant markers. Once you’re all set up, you can teach them how to look after their plants and encourage them to do things like water and weed regularly. It’s really lovely watching them care for their little patch, and a great way to provide them with a chance to do things their way.
5. Explore nature
Children have a natural interest in and curiosity about nature, and gardening provides a perfect opportunity to tap into this. A bug hunt is a great way to start exploring garden residents, and learning about how minibeasts interact with the soil and the plants. It’s a short step from here to a discussion around growing plants to support this whole ecosystem. Larger garden visitors such as birds and frogs are very exciting, and you can have lots of fun creating habitats to attract them; it can be as simple as letting the grass grow long in a corner of the garden, building a mini log pile to provide them with a food source, or just putting out a bird feeder and watching who comes to dine. Nature changes with the seasons too, so there’s always something new for kids to discover.
6. Grow exciting things!
There are so many plants that have a real sense of theatre about them, and kids will really respond to the excitement factor. Plants they can eat are an obvious choice; it’s just so brilliant to pick a peapod from the plant and scoff the contents there and then. Plants that grow super-fast are great too; I always sow salad seeds with my kids, in warm weather you can have a harvest within a couple of weeks which is ideal for impatient little gardeners. If your kids like a bit of competition you could have a height contest with sunflowers (this is a great one for keeping them interested over a whole growing season), and for sheer fun factor I can highly recommend growing something that looks just plain weird. Venus flytrap anyone?!
Hopefully these tips make the idea of getting children into gardening more achievable. I do think that above all, the most important thing you can do is get out there with the kids and give it a go; don’t wait for the ‘perfect’ moment because it will never arrive, and don’t worry about getting it wrong either. Spending time together, getting your hands mucky, and having fun: those are the things your children will remember and associate with gardening, and I don’t think it gets more positive than that.
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