Planting a garden with your kids can grow a lot more than pretty flowers or hearty vegetables. It gets you out in the sunshine, gives you a project to do together, and teaches concepts ranging from math to languages and science. What’s not to love?
Try some of these ideas to get your kids playing in the dirt:
• Pick a theme. Read a children’s book like w or The Princess and the Pea , and have the kids pick something from the book they would like to grow. “Get them started with something they have a connection with,” says Mary Keppler, elementary programs coordinator at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Coral Gables, Florida. “A lot of people can make gardening too technical. It’s okay to just have fun.”
• Plant a rainbow garden, with rows of different colored flowers.
• Plant a pizza garden, with tomatoes, peppers, and basil.
• Get kids interested in gardening through their love of animals.
• Create a wildlife habitat. In a wet area, make frog houses by cutting a doorway into a pot or milk carton and turning it upside down.
• Create a butterfly garden with plants that attract butterflies. Watch the caterpillars munch on leaves, see them turn into a chrysalis and then watch the butterflies emerge. “Kids learn about the butterfly life cycle in school, then they can see the connection in the garden,” Keppler says.
• Try sunflowers, which are easy to grow, Keppler says. The big flower heads attract bees when pollinating, then kids can use the seeds to make bird food.
• Inspire crafts. Plant gourds, dry them, and turn them into birdhouses. Make stamps for ink pads out of cut squash, eggplants, or cucumbers. Press flowers and leaves between the pages of a book and use clear contact paper to make bookmarks, placemats, or suncatchers.
• Tempt appetites. “Children really like to experiment, and if they grow something, they will be more willing to try it,” Keppler says. Find simple recipes online, like a tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad. You can grow two of the ingredients, and only have to buy the cheese.
• Try funky-colored foods. Plant purple or yellow carrots, blue potatoes, or striped tomatoes from heirloom seeds. Passed down from generation to generation, heirloom seeds produce unique flowers and vegetables that are fun for kids to try. Find them at sites like seedsavers.org or rareseeds.com.
The nitty gritty You can garden indoors or out, in containers or in the ground. Line up pots of herbs on a windowsill. Plant a butterfly garden outdoors near a trellis or chain-link fence. Grow vegetables outdoors (they need at least six hours of sun) in raised beds.
Let your creativity loose by turning old shoes, toys, and pots into plant containers. Just punch a few holes in the bottom for drainage.
Start small. Tuck a bean or raw peanut and a wet paper towel in a clear plastic cup or plastic bag. Keep in a dark place, and it will start to sprout in three to five days. “Once it starts to grow, and you see roots and shoots, you can plant it in your garden,” says Keppler.
Start seeds in an empty Styrofoam egg container. Put in a sunny window, and you’ll find most anything sprout.
Ask friends who garden for seeds or small plants to get you started. Gardeners love to share their bounty.
“Gardening is a great way to get kids outside, in the fresh air and sunshine,” Keppler says. “There’s always a way to find a place for plants in your life.”
Julie Landry Laviolette is the mom of two children. Her husband and kids grow tomatoes and potatoes in their compost pile in southern Florida.