You love to serve and eat healthy produce. Your kids love to make messes and wallow in dirt. Can these two passions come together in a win-win situation? Yes! Help kids connect with the idea that food comes from the ground with some of the following ideas.
Get Started: Your first step is to get your kids into the garden. Your kids love being with you, so your goal at this stage is to just be together, creating pleasant associations with the garden. This means no forced labor! I know you could use help with weeding, but that will kill your child’s potential gardening joy! Just let them play in the dirt nearby where they will absorb your enjoyment. They will have a great time digging holes, making mud pies, and hunting for garden helpers like ladybugs or worms. Challenge your kids to find worms for you and then strategically place them near the vegetables where they will loosen up the soil.
Fairy Garden: Going a step further in garden play, you can create a fairy garden with your child. Start with a small space, perhaps an old dish bucket or hollow stump, fill it with dirt and give it a structure or two. A small flower pot on its side can serve as a house. A small dish filled with water can be a pond. Decorate the house and make furniture using twigs, rocks, bits of bark, or other items found outdoors. Then fill in with tiny flowers and plants and wait for the fairies to come. Too cool for fairies? Try a troll or dinosaur garden!
Play Structures: If you have space, you can also make larger play structures in the garden. You can make a corn house by planting corn seeds in a square shape. As the plants grow, they create a walled house where your kids can hide. Bean tee-pees are easy to make by training your bean plants up poles that are lashed together at the top. Use walls of snap peas to make a corridor through your garden. While your kids are playing, they may just pop a snap pea in their mouth!
Garden Markers: Another crafty way to engage your kids in your vegetable garden is to ask them to make garden markers for you. List out the vegetables and herbs you are planting, supply one long wooden cooking spoon for each crop, and ask your children to paint the plant’s name along with a picture on the bowl of the spoon. On planting day, bury the handles in the soil and use them to mark your seed locations.
Harvest Party: Kids adore anything labeled a “party,” so why not take advantage of that and invite some friends over for a Harvest Party? When some of your pick-and-eat crops are ripening, invite a few kids over, give them a basket, and let them go to town. If your kids are older, you could host a party to harvest the ingredients for pesto, tomato sauce, or make-your-own-pizza, and then bring the kiddos into your kitchen to cook up a storm with you. Send each guest home with a jar of their very own sauce.
Magic: Moving another step toward actually growing food, let your child experiment with food that magically regrows itself. After eating watermelon, try planting the seeds. You can also try growing potatoes, sweet potatoes, romaine lettuce, even pineapples from their own scraps. You can find loads of other gardening-related science experiments online, like making a seed viewer, a root view box, or a worm observatory.
If they are showing any interest at all in gardening, by all means give them a garden of their own, whether it’s a corner of your garden or just their own pot or container. Resist the urge to control what and how they plant – although we're not above doing some surreptitious weeding and watering to ensure success. Older kids will love having a budget and wandering through a plant catalog or nursery to choose their own crops. You may want recommend some weird vegetables that will engage their curiosity. You can go for giants like meter-long cucuzza squash, or miniature vegetables like Batwing pumpkins, or unusual colors, like purple carrots.