With nearly all children doing online learning these days, parents (and teachers!) may be looking for ways to keep kids busy and learning without a computer in front of them. How about a children’s garden? I read about these while researching my recent post on “rug gardens,” those small, intensely planted gardens that could feed two or three people during the growing season.
The same wonderful book includes plans for a children’s garden, too. We know from our Garden in a Box program that children love to grow plants. They learn about nature, biology, food and how to have patience when gardening. It also gives them a genuine feeling of accomplishment to eat something they grew themselves, or even better, to share it with their family.
The children’s garden recommended by Arthur Hutchins and Grace Keen is about 5 feet by 7 feet, but you could use a small 4-by-4 grow box or raised bed and your child would be able to produce quite a bit of food. I’ve found that used plastic storage bins make ample sized container gardens for growing food. Just drill some holes in the bottom and fill them with potting mix. How much responsibility the child has depends on age and interest. Certainly, an enthusiastic young teenager could manage a fairly large garden solo. Young children will need more encouragement and help.
Grow What Your Child Likes
Generally, we recommend growing the things you like and the same is true with a child’s garden. The garden Keen and Hutchins recommend includes Swiss chard, radishes and lettuce, green beans and onion sets—all reliable and relatively quick growers.
Green beans are fun to grow and usually very productive; radishes can be produced in less than a month and lettuce is fairly easy and quick growing as well. You can even start some seeds indoors in yogurt cups or homemade newspaper pots in a sunny window. While it takes all summer, many kids might enjoy growing winter squash, which can grow like a leaf monster before it produces delicious squash. If your child likes tomatoes, a smaller hybrid variety such as Sweet 100s or Juliets, would be a reliable grower that produces lots of bite-sized fruits.
If you don’t want to grow a vegetable garden, your child might enjoy growing flowers. Zinnias and sunflowers are great for sunny spots. Just plant the seeds when the soil warms up and wait for them to get big and flower. You could even grow a sunflower house!
What will a child learn in the garden? How a seed germinates and pops up with two cotyledons before it develops true leaves. The child might learn how to handle a hose when watering the garden. Or how to work with a trowel to dig a hole and plant a plant gently. They might learn about plant reproduction that flowers become fruits and those have the seeds for the next plant.
The child might learn to handle disappointment—because what gardener has not come out to see rabbits have eaten down their seedlings or realized they forgot to water and now a plant is dying. A child might learn about the caterpillars and bees and butterflies that visit gardens and that when you plant things they will come!
As we settle into spending more time at home, why not garden with children? It is a healing and joyful activity. Let your children enjoy it too! For more garden activities and lessons for children, check out Kids’ Gardening.