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Gardening With Children

Girl in the GardenChildren can learn many things in a garden. Working with plants and the soil teaches them about nature, the life cycle and the importance of nurturing. This year, set aside space in the family garden for your kids to try their hand at it. No matter what their ages, gardening can be educational and fun.

Plan it together

Work together when designing your family's garden. Take into account the kids’ ages and abilities, and listen to their ideas.

It's not necessary to have a backyard to have a garden. Many vegetables and flowers can be grown successfully in containers. Whether pots or plots, each child should have his or her own garden space. Keep it small and simple, so it’s manageable throughout the growing season. Otherwise, it's easy for children to lose interest.

Build in some play areas in the garden design. Kids' gardens often include play equipment, but also incorporate natural elements. Instead of a plastic sand box, build out an area filled with sand. Play hide-and-seek under and among plants that grow to six feet or more. Sunflowers or Hollyhocks are a great choice. A vine climbing a cone-shaped form can double as teepee. Pole beans, cucumbers or Morning Glories are great for this. Think ahead, too, so the play areas can be converted to other uses once the kids outgrow it.

Digging in the dirt

It may be easier for you to buy plants that are already started, but children learn a lot from planting seeds. As the seeds give way to sprouts and as the sprouts mature, children learn the importance of caring for their plants. And it's exciting to see the sprout emerge from the soil. Nasturtiums, bush beans, and peas have large seeds that are easy for little hands.

Have children use age appropriate gardening tools. Plastic toy tools that youngsters play with may not be the most effective when used for actual gardening tasks. Look for tools made specifically for small hands and short statures. Older children may be able to handle adult tools.

While gardening teaches responsibility, youngsters likely will need help with some garden tasks. Work side-by-side with them, letting kids do as much as they can. Offer assistance when necessary, so the garden doesn't become overwhelming and a chore. It's supposed to be fun!

Kid-friendly crops

To keep naturally impatient children interested, choose hardy, fast growing plants. Discuss the plants that will thrive in your space and learn them about them together before planting.

Lettuce is fast-growing crop. Try both the head and leaf varieties. Radishes are a must, too. With their short 20 to 30 day growing season, kids' efforts are rewarded quickly. That builds anticipation - and patience - for later maturing plants.

Red and white potatoes are a reliable crop for kids. Ask if they can taste the difference. Cherry tomatoes, snow peas and many types of beans are easy to grow. They're also easy to pick and eat right off the vine. Kids love carrots, so choose the mini varieties for little hands and mouths. A pumpkin patch is a staple in many children's gardens, as it extends the growing season into the fall. The family can carve their jack-o-lanterns from pumpkins the children grew.

Strawberries also are easy for kids to grow - and a favorite to eat.

And leave plenty of space for the sunflowers. They're good for kids' gardens, because they grow to a seedling in a few weeks and are two-feet tall within a month or so. The buds flower after about two months.

Regardless of what's in your children's garden patch, encourage them throughout the growing season. Tout their efforts at harvest and at the dinner table when their bounty is served.

Do you garden with your children? Have you ever tried any of the kid friendly ideas mentioned in this article? Share your stories in the comment section below! We'd love to hear about all the fun. If you're just getting started and have questions, feel free to ask away!

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