Green Beans & Patience: Advice for Gardening with Children

Summer is finally on its way, and families are starting to plan their summer activities. Swimming, family cookouts, and camping trips are all on the family to-do list.  One great project that kids will definitely enjoy is planting a garden!

Not only will they be able to harvest and eat food they grew themselves, they’ll also get some sneaky benefits. Gardening with kids has been shown to help improve motor skills and encourage them to try new, healthy foods.

Gardening is also a great way to help you foster children’s social skills. While connecting with their family, they learn about cooperation, responsibility, patience, and the value of hard work. Gardening is one of the few projects that won’t give your children instant gratification. It’s a valuable experience.

This is also an opportunity for kids to learn about the environment. You can discuss wildlife, pollution, and what plants need to grow. The benefits of time outdoors engaging all their senses can’t be ignored, either. Gardening can help them burn off energy and get better at fine motor skills with activities like planting individual seeds. And who isn’t looking for ways to get kids away from screens? Once they harvest their first radish, they’ll be hooked on gardening, instead!

Getting Started With a Kids’ Garden

While it comes with a lot of benefits, there’s no doubt that gardening with small children can be tough. They might accidentally crush your young spinach plants or “helpfully” weed out your heirloom tomatoes. There are a few tricks you can use to make gardening more pleasurable for them and for you.

First, find tools that are specially sized just for kids. After all, kids want to do what they see the adults doing. A small watering can is great for very young children who will happily water plants (and everything else) while you tackle more detailed work.

Next, set the kids up for success. Give younger kids who haven’t had a chance to fully develop fine motor skills larger seeds to plant (like beans and cucumbers) rather than tiny seeds (like lettuce and carrots.) If they do want to plant carrots, just beware that they may not end up in a tidy row! Size can also be important at harvest time. Kids love things like cherry tomatoes, strawberries, green beans, and smaller cucumber varieties that are easy to pick. They can also munch on these bite-sized vegetables right in the garden.

If you have space, give kids their own section of the garden to do with as they please. You can let them go wild planting things wherever they want and not have to worry about them ruining your entire harvest.

Best Plants for Kids

These plants are relatively easy to grow from seeds or transplants and are fun for kids to help harvest.

  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes
  • Radishes
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Beans
  • Squash
  • Pumpkins
  • Strawberries

If you’re having trouble getting your child interested in spending time in the garden try a few of these tips:

1).  Use what children already love. Have a daughter that loves “The Hobbit?” Try growing nasturtiums, one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s favorite plants that he featured in his description of the Shire. Maybe you’ve read “Jack and The Beanstalk” together; try growing a tall pole bean variety together to get your child’s imagination going.

2).  Plant a themed garden. Pollinator gardens are a fun choice and can help you teach children about the importance of pollinators like bees and butterflies. Other good choices include pizza or salad gardens. These are fun projects because when harvest time comes, you can put together a meal emphasizing the benefits of your child’s hard work. You can also create a fairy or gnome garden and create homes from natural materials like twigs, bark, and stones for these imaginary creatures amongst the plants.

3).  Look for fun varieties. Plants like rainbow Swiss chard, purple green beans, rainbow carrots, and indigo cherry tomatoes that aren’t available in the grocery store will stand out in your child’s mind. Allow older children to select the seeds they’d like to grow and let them help plan the garden.

4).  A great project is to create a bean fort or tipi. Create a sturdy trellis or tipi of poles (bamboo works well) and plant pole beans around the structure. The plants will climb the structure and create a shady hideaway for children to visit later in the season.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve always had a green thumb or you’re completely new to gardening. You can start gardening with your kids and create memories you’ll all treasure. Your kids will probably surprise you. They might eat a vegetable they previously disliked now that they’ve grown it themselves or become dedicated to their project in a way you couldn’t even imagine!

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