Gardening with kids is a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors together. Not only is it fun but it also fosters a lifelong love for nature, promotes physical and mental health, encourages healthy eating, and provides countless engaging learning opportunities. Choosing kid-friendly plants for the garden maximizes the opportunities that the garden provides a child.
Early childhood experiences with nature, especially hands on activities such as gardening, increases the chances of a person becoming a lifelong gardener (2). With the many physical and mental health benefits associated with gardening, this is definitely something that we, as parents, want to encourage. Studies have suggested that gardening can fight stress, reduce low-moods associated with depression and bipolar disorder, and reduce risk of dementia (1). It is also a great low-impact exercise to stretch and strengthen the body (1).
Studies have also shown that children who participate in gardening are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables, and be more adventurous with trying new foods (1). This has definitely been the case for my family. My son has lots of experience in the garden and often will pick things right off the plant to eat. He is a great raw vegetable and fruit eater all year round.
While gardening, children learn both science and life skills.
By observing the garden ecosystem, children learn about:
- plant growth
- soil science
- and the importance of insects.
In addition, life skills such as responsibility, self-confidence, and caring for others and the environment are taught through the experience of nurturing a garden. (3)
Not all vegetables are made equal when it comes to a kid-friendly garden. Luckily there are countless plants that deem most appropriate for the young gardener.
Speedy Vegetables – Keep Their Interest
Having at least a few fast sprouting and fast growing vegetables in the garden will be a big boast to keeping a child engaged in the garden. Spinach, peas, and radish are all fast to sprout and can be eaten very early on in the growth process. I recommend mild varieties of radish such as White Icicle, White Beauty, or Early Scarlet Gold so they more palatable to children (4). Within a week of planting, and often less than a week, these plants will have a sprout poking up from the soil. What else is great about these three vegetables is the fact that they can all be eaten at all stages of development. So start snacking on some pea shoots, radish greens, or baby spinach with your kids right away!
A No Fail Garden – Encourage Independence And Self-Confidence
Some plants like celery and cauliflower are picky about temperature, and require special care, often leaving a gardener disappointed come harvest time. Leave these out of a child’s garden and instead opt for the sure-fire successes. Plants like kale, Swiss chard, mint, and oregano are all plants that are almost impossible to fail at. They grow easily and prolifically. Mint and oregano will come back every year and spread easily through the garden. Some caution should be taken with these plants as you don’t want them to take over the garden. Swiss chard will self seed if it is allowed to, and kale will come back each year in mild enough climates. So all these plants can lead to a no fail garden for years to come.
Have Fun In The Garden – Vegetables That Amaze And Engage
Add pumpkins, and sunflowers to the garden for lots of excitement. These plants are not particularly fast or easy, but they do offer the reward of being awesome. By the end of the growing season, these plants are sure to provide lots of excitement with a homegrown Halloween pumpkin, or the tallest growing flower in the neighbourhood.
Source: Time Lapse of growing Sunflower from seed – Circle of life by Mac Paverick
Make A Connection To The Garden With Their Senses
One of the greatest joys of gardening is how it engages all the senses; taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound. Children love to explore their senses and there are countless plants that offer great opportunities for them to do so.
Engage taste with berry bushes, strawberries, and grapes. Let the smell of lavender, and lemon balm delight your child’s nose, and encourage them to explore the fuzzy texture of lamb’s ears or the silky feel of pampas grass. A handful of cherry tomatoes of all colours look beautiful and the sounds of the garden, such as insects, and the rustle of leaves is delightful.
Enjoy Meaningful Time Outdoors With Your Child
There are endless opportunities to add plants to the garden that will increase your child’s enjoyment of the garden. Exposing children to gardening early is a gift to them that could have lifelong benefits. Include your child in your garden plans and get the family’s hands dirty.
Amy grew up on farm property with very large impressive gardens, and eventually found a community garden to practice her skills until she was able to have her own garden at home. She now has a beautiful garden full of edibles, flowers and insects (both predator and prey) where she and her family can be found digging in dirt and snacking on delicious food. Her son has grown up helping in the garden where he has picked up a love and knowledge of plants far beyond his years.
Sources for this article include:
(1) Why gardening is good for your health, by Anne Harding
(2) Children’s Active and Passive Interactions with Plants Influence Their Attitudes and Actions toward Trees and Gardening as Adults
(3) Gardening Teaches Kids Life Skills
(4) Radish Varieties – What’s the Difference?