Foodshare: Gardening with Children

Photo Credit: Unsplash User  Nikoline Arns

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Nikoline Arns

Montana Homesteader, with a two-year-old daughter, gives a realistic introduction into gardening with a young child that applies to many areas of parenting. “As a parent, I’ve had to make a pretty big mental shift in regards to making progress on projects. Instead of always thinking, ‘I could do x, y and z so quickly if I was by myself and didn’t have any distractions,’ I have to tell myself (repeatedly), ‘Being a parent is a gift. Teaching Little A how to garden is a gift. Patience is a virtue.’ I have to learn to be more flexible. Instead of finishing my project in two hours, it might take me four hours or even a couple hours over the week to get done what I need to get done. This happens because I’m also parenting a very sweet little toddler who is growing, changing and learning how to ‘be a farmer’. She’s learning by watching what I do. If that slows down my progress, then so be it.” The blogger offers a few ways their family have figured out how to garden with toddlers:

  1. Give them their own dirt pile to dig in (e.g. an old planter). “When I’m working on projects, she has free reign to dig in the dirt, bury treasures, and plant random seeds we find. She has shovels, rakes, cups, old plant stakes, sticks and pretty much anything she can find to play in her dirt pile and she loves it.”

  2. Give them a similar project to the one you’re working on. “I decided to give Little A her own set of seed pots to fill with dirt and a pile of stray seeds I found in the bottom of my seed box…. I was amazed at how engaged she was in this project! We had such a productive morning when we worked side by side but on separate seed pots. I like to think of her seed pots as “practice pots”. She wasn’t too keen on letting the seeds she planted actually stay in the dirt and germinate. I think that will be a project for next year when she’ll be at a different developmental level.”

  3. Allow them to help pull weeds. “She was so proud to show me each weed she pulled with a clump of dirt on the bottom stuck to the roots. I offered her lots of praise. She sang silly songs while we pulled weeds and it warmed my heart!”

  4. Keep a stash of outdoor toys near the garden. “This is the key for us to be able to spend productive time in our garden….Sometimes I load up our little red wagon with toys and haul a load out to the garden so she can entertain herself when she gets bored with what I’m doing.”

Even infants can be introduced to gardening through a sensory garden. At home or in child care settings, a sensory garden offers infants opportunity to learn about the world through their senses: touch, sight, sound, taste, and smell. Growing Minds offers a pdf tip sheet on creating sensory gardens for infants and toddlers which notes, “The key to creating positive experiences in outdoor learning environments lies not only in the physical environment but with the modeling and behavior of caregivers. Just as infants learn about relationships from how people touch/hold them and from the tones of voice or facial expressions, this is also how they learn about their relationship to the natural world around them….Creating safe outdoor learning environments that offer infants and toddlers the opportunity to explore and experiment with the natural world must be combined with caregivers who are willing and able to let children interact with their environment and model that interaction themselves.”

This webpage offers a variety of suggestions, large and small, for integrating sensory experiences into the child’s environment:

  • Interactivity: Offers a number of ways to design sensory gardens to encourage interaction with the environment

  • Sight: This includes colour, shape, visual texture, movement, light and shadow. Suggestions are offered to incorporate colours, shapes, light and special features throughout the year.

  • Sound: “Many sounds in a sensory garden don’t need planning, such as the wound of wind rushing through the leaves, rustling grasses or singing birds. But, to enhance the variety of sounds you may include”:

    • Dripping or trickling water

    • Wind chimes (homemade or store bought)

    • Encourage birds into your garden with a birdbath, nectar or non-toxic berry producing trees and plants

    • Quiet places (sometimes sounds are too overwhelming)

  • Touch: A variety of suggestions are offered to introduce texture into the environment.

  • Smell: “Smells don’t just have to come from blooming flowers. When planning a sensory garden for infants and toddlers, think about both strong and subtle smells that they may explore directly or indirectly”

    • Consider planting non-slip creeper or herb on or near a path so that, when you walk on the plant, it will release a beautiful aroma – for example, thyme or mint.

    • Don’t clump too many aromatic plants in the one area, as the confusion of different scents will be overwhelming. Space scented plants at intervals around your garden.

  • Taste: “A favorite sense. Everything in an infant and toddler garden should be edible, or at least non-toxic….Early introduction to fresh, healthy foods will have an important impact as children begin making their own food choices.”

Jackie Carroll, in her blog at https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/special/children/toddler-garden-design-ideas.htm gives specific suggestions for designing gardens for toddlers that incorporate sensory elements.

Bounceback Parenting describes three successful projects they did with their own young children: painting and positioning a pre-made birdhouse; making a small garden scarecrow using clothes out of the children’s outgrown clothes; and letting the children choose and plant annuals from the garden centre into a planter.

Julia Luckenbill gives advice, based on her own experience, on vegetable gardening with toddlers at https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/7-tips-vegetable-gardening and FoodShare Toronto offer a helpful tip sheet for making children feel engaged and welcome in a community gardening environment at https://foodshare.net/custom/uploads/2015/11/GardeningWithChildren.pdf