Growing a garden is a magical, hands-on way to experience nature. Even if you don't have room for a large garden try a small raised bed or some pots of vegetables and herbs on your balcony. Most kids are fascinated by growing plants and love the chance gardening offers to get their hands dirty and play with creepy crawlies.
WHEN YOU'RE THERE
Give kids their own garden - Offer kids a chance to tend their own garden bed or collection of pots and let them be responsible for all parts of the gardening process. Kids can plan their own garden, using the principles of companion planting if they'd like. They can plant and tend their garden on their own and share the bounty with family and friends.
Harvest life lessons - The gardening process offers a chance to learn life lessons when the stakes are low. For most gardeners, some degree of failure is inevitable. Natural occurrences like hail storms can occasion large scale disasters in the garden. Kids can learn patience and the skills necessary to rebound from failure and try again. Gardening challenges such as pests are also a chance to try problem solving techniques.
Grow your own buffet - Planting foods that kids enjoy which can be harvested throughout the gardening season keeps them coming back to the garden. Sweet peas are ready to eat early and can be a favourite snack for kids. Berries also tend to be a hit with little ones. Raspberries provide an ongoing harvest that most kids can't resist. Make sure you plant enough of each crop so that kids can sample the harvest regularly with enough left over for your other food needs.
Involve kids in food preservation - Whether you undertake an extensive canning operation or just freeze food in bags, being involved in preserving food can show kids how a garden can provide nutrition and sustenance beyond the summer months.
If your kids are getting into gardening as helpers have them join in on the messiest of tasks. Kids are usually drawn to digging in the dirt so working the soil and planting seeds are naturally engaging. Our kids also love playing with the hose which makes them naturals for watering the garden. Another way to draw kids in to the gardening process is to plant their favourite foods.
LISTEN AND LEARN
Short and Savvy Podcast Episode - Grow Gardeners with Steven Biggs
Eddie's Garden and How to Make Things Grow by Sara Garland - This lovely storybook tells the story of Eddie, his little sister Lily, and their mom as they plan, plant, care for, and harvest a garden. The sweet family dynamic and humour in the story makes it an engaging read packed full of useful insights into how gardens grow and how to care for them.
Garden Classroom: Hands On Activities in Math, Science, Literacy, and Art by Cathy James - While her title does use the word classroom, the activities Cathy lays out wonderful, natural ways to engage with the outdoors. They are fun and not overly teachy. With art and storytelling activities, this book inspires outdoor learning beyond the biological and scientific.
Gardening Lab for Kids: 52 Fun Experiments to Learn, Grow, Harvest, Make, Play and Enjoy Your Garden by Renata Brown - Another thorough resource for the gardening family. This book takes you from growing a garden to enjoying the fruits of your labour with lots of learning and art in between.
GardenABCs Learning Resources - A collection of websites and resources aimed at helping kids learn through gardening.
Gro Garden App - If you don't have space to grow a garden or are in the midst of a snowy winter try Gro Garden to let kids plant and grow a e-garden of their own. It offers a good grounding in the necessary steps of gardening and let kids learn about sustainable growth.
REFLECTING ON EXPERIENCE
Sometimes the best way to reflect on your experience is to share it with others. Gardening provides the unique opportunity to share the fruits of labour with others as a delicious meal. Plan a harvest meal where kids can invite over friends or family and prepare some dishes from their garden's harvest. This may be a natural time to talk about their gardening experiences, challenges and plans.
Create a seed library. Collect and save seeds from plants that you grow in your garden. Look for opportunities to gather seeds from interesting plants that friends and neighbours are growing. You can even try collecting seeds from the food that you get from the grocery store. See if you can plant a portion of your garden from seeds you have gathered rather than purchased. Try and increase that portion year after year.