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Do you have tips on gardening with children?

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Gardening is a helpful way to explore nature in both rural and urban environments, and it provides a hands-on experience for children. From the youngest toddler to the oldest child in the family, every gardening season brings new challenges and lessons. Consider ages as your children help with gardening, and remember to grow enough items in the garden that the experience will be successful.

Preschoolers - children ages 4 and under should be supervised at all times in the garden. At this age, the garden is a multi-sensory exploration, and they pay very little attention to long-term activities. Touch, smell, sight and taste are the key inputs to learning. Language development is encouraged as young children learn names of weeds, flowers and vegetables. Share picture books about gardens, flowers, vegetables, insects and birds with young children. Kindergartners - at this age, the world is a storybook. A garden is a good setting for a myriad of stories. Use your imagination to create a play place for your child. Many children this age will appreciate stories like “Wind in the Willows,” where animal creatures come alive with dialog. Create dialog between creatures found in your own garden, such as pill bugs, grasshoppers and earthworms. Early elementary grades - continue with library trips that augment the garden experience. First and second graders can successfully hold their interest long enough to sow radish seeds and watch them grow. True garden work (harvesting, weeding, etc.) requires supervision but boosts children’s self-esteem as they are praised for their helpfulness. Make finger puppets or action figures out of plant materials found in the garden or yard. Mid-elementary grades - start incorporating school lessons into garden activities. Make a garden plan at the beginning of the season and carry it through. Allow children to have a spot of their own to do whatever they like. Provide suggestions and be supportive. Encourage them to write a garden journal. Upper elementary grades - children in fourth to sixth grades are able to sustain their attention for longer time periods. Enroll your child with friends in a 4-H gardening club and watch them progress through their chosen project. Encourage them to enter their project in the county fair. School lessons will begin to have more pertinence to garden planning and results. Encourage scientific inquiry by helping children set up experiments in the garden. Pre-teens to teens - the garden is still a place for learning and at this age can also offer stress relief. There’s even potential money if your child can grow flowers or vegetables to sell in the neighborhood. They could use their garden skills and “garden-sit” as neighbors leave for vacations. Encourage community service in a garden or landscape at such places as a handicapped neighbor’s home or at school. The 4-H program can be an important part of youths’ lives as they take leadership roles and develop public speaking skills. Beyond the teenage years - hopefully you have nurtured your child’s sense of wonder and awe through their years of gardening. Gardening is a life skill that is not taught in schools. It is up to caring adults to show youth the garden path. Children and young people will have different priorities than adults when it comes to gardening, and that is okay. Remember you can always buy fresh produce at the local farmer’s market, so relax if things don’t turn out the way you’d hoped or if your plants get stomped by little feet.

Posted on 19 May 2006

Maggie Wolf
Horticulture Agent, Salt Lake County

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