Gardening offers many benefits for adults and kids alike. It provides gentle or vigorous physical exercise, along with plenty of fresh air and sensible sunlight. It's also proven to have significant benefits for mood, stress reduction, and overall wellbeing.
But all these important benefits aside, an early start in gardening also teaches kids some essential life lessons they can draw on in later years.
- Gardening teaches about effort, reward, and the importance of working hard.
- Gardening also provides valuable lessons about patience and delayed gratification. Plants can't be rushed, and you need to plan ahead for future rewards. This is an important change of pace from today's always-on, click-of-a-button society.
- Even the best gardeners get things wrong. Kids will learn the benefits of perseverance, along with accepting the fact that failure is sometimes just part of life.
- On the other hand, successful seed growing can bring self-confidence and a sense of pride in achievements.
- Growing from seed teaches responsibility, as kids need to care for a seedling to keep it alive and bring it to maturity.
- This also gently introduces the concepts of life and death to young children.
- Growing veggies gives an insight into where food comes from, how nature operates, and the importance of looking after the environment.
- Homegrown food promotes an appreciation of a healthy diet.
- Working together in the garden instills ideas of community and cooperation, showing that many hands can make light work.
- Lastly, working in the garden also gives a practical grounding in sciences from biology to chemistry, standing kids in good stead for future education.
Given all these benefits, it's clear that getting kids involved with gardening is a good idea. But what's the best way to get going? As with most areas of gardening, it all starts with the seeds you choose to grow.
Great Seeds for Growing With Kids
While you can grow almost any kind of seed with kids, you'll spark the most interest with varieties that combine fun, impressive results, and relative ease of growing. Here are some of the best examples.
Growing sprouts is perhaps the simplest and quickest way to introduce kids to the joys of gardening. Indeed, it doesn't even need access to a garden. Whether you choose mung beans, alfalfa, or the more exotic fenugreek, sprouting is a visual and fun process that provides changing results from day to day.
And what's more, the delicious end product is flexible enough to be worked into almost any favourite kind of food to add that final dimension to the project.
If any plant most resembles the childhood image of a bloom, it's the sunflower. With their height, dramatic colour, and fast growing speed, they make an accessible choice which sparks the imagination. And once flowering is over, the seeds make a healthy and tasty snack.
Such an everyday vegetable as the carrot may not seem a thrilling choice for children to grow. However, they can be grown in small spaces or even containers, making them a flexible option.
What's more, pulling a perfectly formed or amusingly misshaped example out of the earth can make for a wonderful shared moment.
However, the finishing touch is that freshly picked home-grown carrots are sweeter and tastier than anything available in the shops.
Cherry tomatoes are much easier to grow than standard types, requiring little more than watering, weeding, and an occasional feed. They're a very visual choice with their bright red or golden fruits, and eating them straight from the vine is a treat kids will quickly come to anticipate.
While they offer a similar visual appeal to tomatoes, cherry radishes might not be to all kids' tastes thanks to the peppery flavour. However, they make up for that drawback through growing speed and simplicity.
Simply scatter a few seeds and patience is rewarded in just a few weeks. And you never know, the novelty of home-grown radishes might be enough to make kids warm to the flavour.
Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps
Picked straight from the vine, snow peas and sugar snaps make irresistibly sweet treats for kids. There are few more immediate ways to show the sensory rewards that veggie growing can bring.
Choose the right variety of pumpkin, and you'll grow large and dramatic fruits which wouldn't look out of place in a fairy tale or comic book. And even the smaller varieties can impress with their unique, otherworldly shapes and colours.
If zucchini's exuberant display of bright flowers and large leaves doesn't grab a child's attention, the fast-growing fruits that follow definitely will. It's perhaps worth leaving a few fruits to grow well past maturity into marrow-sized specimens. These may not be as edible, but they can be amusingly impressive.
Fast and Bright Flowers
Brightly coloured annual flowers such as Californian poppy, cosmos, and calendula grow quickly and can give a wonderful sense of achievement when they bloom. And if you grow edible species such as nasturtiums, the interest value will be increased even further.
And lastly, any unusual variety of plant which defies expectations will be fun to grow. From round carrots to purple beans, striped tomatoes to rainbow silverbeet, seeds which surprise will always be a hit.
Encouraging Kids into the Garden
But a careful choice of captivating seeds isn't worth much if you can't get your kids interested in gardening in the first place. Luckily, most children are only too happy to get their hands dirty, and the potential fun of watering on a hot day shouldn't be underestimated.
However, if your kids are a little reluctant to join in with your hobby, here are some ideas to get them started.
It's never too early to start kids out in the garden - with careful supervision of course. The key is to try a variety simple activities, and then encourage them when something seems to particularly spark their interest.
Particularly young children will be happy to help out with watering and trowel work, even if the results can be a little random. Slightly older kids can also take part in sowing, especially if you have some sacrificial seeds to sow.
Give them a sense of ownership by letting them decorate the pots or labels, but be ready to take over the responsibilities of watering and weeding as the seedlings grow to avoid later disappointment.
Importantly, hold back on any ideas of strict cleanliness. Mud is a good thing and most kids love working with it, particularly if it's a novelty compared to everyday life.
And if your little ones show no interest in ordinary gardening activities, there are other ways of involving them in the garden. Try cutting and drying leaves and flowers for decorative craft projects. Alternatively, build and install a homemade scarecrow while explaining about birds, seedlings, and the damage that happens when the two come together.
Older kids can accept a little more responsibility, but will also need more instruction. Explaining what you're doing as you go along can stoke their enthusiasm, especially if you describe the end results they can expect and how much they'll enjoy them.
Bring older kids into your sowing activities by letting them label seed pots or rows, and show them how to do routine jobs such as weeding and watering. However, you'll probably want to keep a close eye on what they consider to be weeds or crops.
Later still, introduce the concepts of composting, mulching, pruning, and so on, explaining their place in the gardening year.
A Dedicated Patch
Taking things further, a greater amount of independence will keep older children interested for longer. If you have enough space, give them a dedicated patch of earth and let them do as they wish. This doesn't need to be a huge area - a couple of square metres is plenty to begin with.
Of course, you'll be there to give help and advice, and you may want to have the final say on introducing invasive species and so on. But letting kids decide on their own gardening projects is an excellent way to teach responsibility and forward planning.
In the Kitchen
If you grow vegetables or other foods, get your kids involved with the harvesting and cooking of the final produce, whether they've taken part in the growing or not. Let them help choose the recipes and join in with the preparation. This may help spark their interest for future gardening.
If they enjoy this aspect, maybe spend an evening choosing which varieties of vegetable seeds to buy for sowing the following year.
Whichever route you take to getting your kids involved, an early interest in gardening can last a lifetime. And it will also teach them plenty about life itself, forming an incredibly useful part of their development.