Start Gardening with Kids

Turn digging in the dirt into a lifelong love for nature and the outdoors

Mother Carrying Her Son Watering Plants in a Garden With a Watering Can
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When you put a plate of vegetables in front of your preschooler, how does he react? Not to generalize, but chances are your little one is less than pleased (especially if you have a picky eater). The good news is that there is a great way to get your whole family to eat more fruits and vegetables while engaging in some active fun too. What is this miracle activity? Gardening!

It might not seem like it, but little kids and gardening go together like, well, peas in a pod (and not just because there is so much dirt involved either).

"Preschoolers are at a great age for gardening," said Dr. Chris Cerveny," a senior scientist for Miracle-Gro. "It's such a fun age because they are so inquisitive and so eager to help and do things." From helping to water to planting, growing a garden with your child can be a true learning experience for both of you, even if you have never done it before. Here's how to get started.

  • Grow a To-Do List Dr. Cerveny says there are plenty of age-appropriate jobs for little ones in the garden and he encourages parents to get kids involved in the whole process. First, you'll need to plan your garden. "Kids can help pick out the plants and where they go," he said, adding that kids often have an interesting idea of aesthetics. "They'll put plants in a pathway, small plants in the back of a garden and just place things haphazardly," he said. "But that gives you a lot of fodder for conversation -- ask, 'Why do you want to put this here versus there?' or point out, 'If we put this plant in the pathway, we will step on it.'"

    Watering is an easy task too, Dr. Cerveny says that preschoolers just need to be supervised. "Make sure your child isn't blasting the plants," he said. Kids can also help dig dirt and carry supplies.

  • Consider a Theme A great way to introduce kids about the purpose of a vegetable garden is to grow ingredients that they can use to make a dish and ultimately eat. Themes include salsa, spaghetti and pizza.

  • "A theme garden really helps kids with the concept of a plant-to-plate continuum," Dr. Cerveny said. "You are teaching them where food comes from," he said. Through this method, kids really get to understand how the process works. Dr. Cerveny said his wife worked as a manager in a children's garden with kids between the ages of 3 to 5. They planted ingredients for a salad. "You wouldn't believe these kids chowing down on vegetables they wouldn't have looked at before," he said. "There is something wonderful about being able to taste the thing you grew."

  • Start from Seeds..."There is something magical about planting a seed and watching it sprout," Dr. Cerveny said. Miracle-Gro has a product called a Root Viewer -- a pot with a window on the side that lets kids actually watch the roots grow.
  • ...or Transplants Having said that, Dr. Cerveny said that growing vegetables from seeds often take a long time. "Transplants are hopefully healthy plants to begin with so in a case where you don't know your growing conditions or if you aren't sure what will perform well, a transplant is a good plant to start with." He said that if within a week if the plant doesn't look so great, you can move it or try again.
  • Teach, Teach, Teach One of the most important parts of gardening is being able to teach your child. "Talk about what does a plant need to grow," Dr. Cerveny said, adding that you can build in life lessons. "If you neglect it, a plant will die -- it teaches life responsibility." The nice thing about a plant though is that plants can be forgiving -- "If you give a plant water it will perk back up, it isn't as risky as a hamster," he said.

    You can also research new plants with your children and reap the benefits when they eat what they sow. "It is amazing what kids will eat if they are involved in the growing process," Dr. Cerveny said.

    • Pick Kid-Friendly Plants While any plant will be a learning experience for your little one, Dr. Cerveny has a list of favorites for growing with little kids. "Herbs are great," he said. "There are so many textures. The sage plant is fuzzy and it leaves its fragrance on your fingers. You can bring that fragrance back to the food it is used in -- Thanksgiving turkey or stuffing for example." He also said that salad greens are fairly straightforward and that flowers are very easy. "I love to grow sunflowers -- it's a small seed that produces a big blossom that follows the sun. They are fun too -- you can dry the seeds." Squash and pumpkins can be easy but they need space.
    • Grow a Container Garden If you are short on space or are new to gardening, containers might be a good place to start. "Containers are more creative to play around with," Dr. Cerveny said. "If something doesn't work you can pull it out and start all over again." He said that if you go on vacation it isn't the end of the world if you have to leave them behind or, even take them with you if you have the space.
    • Get the Right Tools If you can, consider buying your child her own set of gardening tools. Kids gardening tools are sized and shaped appropriately for little hands and they are often less sharp. If buying new tools isn't a possibility, make sure your child is supervised when she uses yours.
    • Cultivate Safety For all the fun you have in the garden, make sure it is a place that is safe for your little one. There are many things your child can help do, but remember that ultimately you are in charge. So as with any task, make sure your child has proper supervision.​

      There are often a lot of sharp tools and chemicals like insecticides involved so you want to make sure that these types of things are secure.

      "Think 'Safety First,'" Dr. Cerveny said. "Like you would do in the kitchen with knives or scissors." He suggests some common sense rules like -- washing hands when you are finished and talking about playing in the dirt (yes!) versus eating dirt (no!).

      Also, important to be certain that your child understands that the garden is not something they should be working on by themselves. "When a child has a positive experience with something, they want to do it again," Dr. Cerveny said. If your child enjoys spending time in the garden, make sure she gets to do it again -- but with you and not on her own.

    • Have Fun "Kids have low expectations," Dr. Cerveny said. "Just view gardening as something fun to do and experiment with. And you never know, it might sprout a hobby -- for you and your kids."

    Disclosure: A review product was provided by the manufacturer. 

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