Kids are naturally curious - use this to your advantage! With the rate of obesity in children creeping up each year, getting your child interested in fruits and vegetables is a great way to combat this trend. One way to get kids interested is by including them in the decision-making process involved with planning their meals. If you already grow a vegetable and/or herb garden at home (or plan to start one), here are a few ways to get your child involved:
The second option is really ideal, because then he will take ownership of the plants and be excited to see the finished product. You can choose plants that you know he already likes, or add some unusual varieties that would be fun to test out. Planting a garden around a theme is also a good idea (such as a "pizza" garden or a "stone soup" garden). Be sure to offer guidance in choosing plants - you want to make sure some "sure-successes" plants are in the plan. However, if there is a disaster and your plants don't produce, use this as a learning experience and work together to figure out what went wrong and how to be successful next time.
When planting the crops, relax your standards - crooked rows and some weeks are okay. Also, take the time to examine what you find while digging, such as worms and other bugs. Teach your child that some bugs are helpful while others are destructive. Keep in mind that you might have to do some behind the scenes maintenance (weed pulling, pest control, watering) - it's tough to expect kids to take care of all the upkeep.
Safety is always important when working with children, regardless of their age. Gardens can be fun and exciting, but there are some inherent dangers. It's impossible to avoid all potential hazards, but keep these things in mind as you get started: (1) learn as much as you can about your garden environment; (2) teach your children what's safe and what's not; and (3) always keep an eye on your children.
Chemicals - never let children apply fertilizers, weed killers or insecticides. If you plan to use any chemicals, read the label regarding application and keep children away when applying and as recommended after the application.
Tools - make sure the size of the tool matches the size of the child. Before giving any tools to children, show them the proper (safe) way to use them. Always monitor children when using any type of tool.
Water - watering your plants is a must, but remember that even a small bucket of water can be dangerous for small children. Always supervise children around water.
Allergies - some plants may cause allergic reactions that were unknown before you started gardening. If a rash or other sign of an allergy appears, contact your doctor and bring a list of plants and any chemicals you've been using to help determine the cause of the reaction. During the planning phase of your gardening experience, it is recommended that you research your plants to determine any possible health risks or poisonous parts.
Many adult gardeners started gardening as children. To help instill your love of gardening into your kids, share your knowledge and passion and hopefully it will catch on. If you are a novice gardener yourself, this is a great hobby to share with children. Kids love learning and working together to learn about plants and nature is a wonderful project to do together.
Other tips for gardening with your children:
Garden Journals - To keep the kids interested until the fruits are ready to harvest, have them start a garden journal. They can draw pictures of what the plants look like at different stages and even what type of bugs visited. Make sure to include what they like most about gardening.
Location, Location, Location - It's important in gardens, too. Pick a sunny spot in the backyard near where the kids play and often walk by. The more they see their garden, the more they'll notice the changes. Keep the space to about no more than about 4' by 4'. If you don't have a yard, you can still have a garden in pots on a patio or inside on a windowsill.
Playing with Dirt - Most kids love playing in the dirt. Let them help you prepare the soil, even if all they are capable of is stomping on the clumps. Kid-sized tools will make them feel even more a part of the project.
Identify the Garden as Theirs - Mark each plant with the tag it came with, so the kids can see what the vegetables will look like. Also, make a sign for the whole garden with the child's name, so everyone can see that it's their garden.
Playing with Water - Playing with water is right up there with playing with dirt. Give the kids a small watering can to use on their garden. Show them how to gently let the water go right to the roots of the plants. Hoses are just asking for trouble - they are too heavy for little hands to control.
Include the Whole Environment - You can also teach them about mulching and composting by letting them spread grass clippings and shredded leaves around their plants to conserve water and help feed the plants. Don't forget to point out any interesting insects.
Patience is a Virtue - Kids don't have a lot of patience and they may try to pull up their radishes just to see if they are ready. Let them keep tabs this way - use the garden journal to mark progress and if they just can't wait to try that radish, let them and then they can compare the taste of a small, not-quite-ready radish to one that is ready.
Let Them Make Their Own Mistakes - Sometimes adults don't have a lot of patience either. Let the kids have control of their garden. If it's messy, it's their mess. Let them enjoy it and take pride in their own piece of land.