Gardening With Children

I often heard stories from people about their gardening experience when they were children.  Usually the story has something to do with the person being forced to pull mountains of weeds. The quickest way for kids to lose their interest in gardening is to force them to do laborious and monotonous tasks, like weeding. When asked which garden task we would rather not do most of us would probably say weeding. It's also probably why all those chemical weed killers are so popular.

My oldest daughter at 2.5 yrs.
I don't force my children to do gardening activities, but often they will join in with me on their own.  Not to weed of course! If I'm planting seeds I always get a "daddy can I help?" from one of the kids. The other day I was potting plants to make them ready for the farmer's market I attend when one of my daughters came and volunteered to help. I use coir (coconut) pots for the edibles which almost always come stuck together. She wrangled the pots, separated them, got more when needed, and set them out for me which I'm sure improved my production by at least 30 minutes. It was great! That day I spent time teaching her things about the plants, talking with her, and spending priceless quality time with her.

Someday they will have to chip in with various tasks outdoors as they are older and more responsible but for now I want them to explore. Often when I'm out working I'll find something interesting, like a salamander underneath a worm bin box. I called the kids over to see it and they asked questions.  They learned it was an amphibian and not a reptile.  I explained how it needed moisture to survive and we talked about what it did that was good for the garden.  Then we put the salamander right back where we found it. A couple weeks ago a cardinal got stuck in the garage.  I caught it and the kids were able to see it up close before I released it. They've seen bunny rabbits, snakes, toads, deer, turkeys, bugs, worms, butterflies, and all kinds of other creatures that thrive in the garden. The garden is an awesome laboratory for learning.

My daughters helping with a raised bed.

Being an example is the most important thing in gardening which is true in all aspects of parenting. I'm outdoors all the time and so that's where the kids go. They don't want to sit around the house all day when they could be playing outdoors. They do like their TV time, but when they come home from school they head outdoors without even asking about TV. They've established a little "fort" inside of my dappled willow shrubs where they go. It's a secret, don't tell anyone. They even have a little garden area of their own where they experiment with planting things. I let them have the freedom to explore their ideas outdoors.

Oldest daughter at 8 yrs with her bee.
I've learned from them too.  Last week the kids discovered a carpenter bee who somehow had broken its wings.  My oldest daughter became determined to rehab the creature. The carpenter bees inflict us with their territorial harassment every year; I would never have considered rehabbing one!  My daughter went and did a little research and learned the difference between male and female bees.  She also discovered that the male carpenter bees don't sting, they're all bark and no bite.  Now when the little bees dive bomb me outside I barely flinch instead of running for the hills.

When the garden harvests come in the kids are the first to explore what we've grown.  Every one of the kids loves a good fresh tomato and will happily devour the cherry tomatoes right from the garden. The garden encourages children to try new foods.  The kids love pesto which we make each year from our backyard basil but will sample almost anything we give them from the garden.  Last night I picked asparagus from the garden for cooking with dinner and we sampled it fresh which they actually liked.  They said it was better fresh from the garden than cooked.

Kids really have a passion for learning.  If given a little bit of freedom to explore children will find something to learn.  It's in their nature and it's in our nature too!