My son and I planted our first seeds together when he was a mere one and a half years old. That initial attempt at creating a vegetable garden didn’t go so well… Our tomato plants weren’t fond of the wind on the balcony, and unfortunately they never flourished. The next year, we planted carrots, herbs, and strawberries instead to great success. Both our failure and our success, taught my son valuable lessons about life and how the natural world works.
That’s when I realized just how valuable an educational experience gardening is for children. Through gardening, a child can not only learn about, but also witness first hand the life cycle process that occurs when a plant grows, or in the case of our tomato plants, don’t grow. And they are fascinated by it… After all, seeing life spring up from a little tiny seed is a pretty incredible experience!
In addition, taking care of that budding life, nurturing it, tending to it every day, teaches a child responsibility and compassion. A great sense of pride will arise from seeing their plants grow and get stronger. Like I mentioned in the blog post Story Time: Lola Plants a Garden, my little man is strictly in charge of watering the plants on the balcony in the morning, and he takes great satisfaction from his task. The fact that he is trusted to look after a little life himself, just like his mom and dad look after him, lends him an invaluable sense of independence and strength.
One day, shortly after we had planted the new garden on the balcony, my son and I went for a walk, and on that walk he found a beautiful flower. He liked it so much, he insisted on giving it to his father as a gift. When we arrived home, the first thing he did was rush to the balcony, dig a little hole in one of the planters with his tiny finger, and gently lay the flower down in the soil. In that moment, I realized he had made the connection between plants and soil. He understood that plants needed soil to grow. Needless to say, I was impressed and super happy that my one and a half year old had already grasped such an abstract concept!
Gardening also has sensory benefits for young children, as at that age, they are learning so much about their world through touching and feeling. Manipulating the soil, feeling the textures of different plants, picking flowers, harvesting vegetables... All these activities help kids better understand the world they live in!
Have I convinced you yet? If you are interested in starting your own garden with your little ones, here are some helpful tips!
When to Plant
Now that you've decided to plant a garden, find out when your regions last average frost date is! This way, you can plant your garden without fear of frost killing your plants. There are a couple ways to find out what the projected last day of frost is, but the easiest way is to check this website.
Next, plant your cold season plants like broccoli, lettuce, and squash. These vegetables don't mind being a little cold at night (as long as they don't get frosty!). When the weather warms up and the nights aren't quite so chill, then it's time to plant your warm weather plants like tomatoes, peppers, and beans.
What to Grow
Worried that your plants just won't grow? Never fear! There are a couple vegetables that offer almost instant gratification, and are easy to plant in a pinch. Radishes, baby carrots, and lettuce will spring up from the soil in just a few days given a little water and sunlight. Additionally, you can pick them early on, so growing time is extra short!
In terms of fruit, we recommend growing strawberries! These delicious berries are a favourite of kids everywhere, and they are actually pretty easy to manage. Since strawberries are a trailing plant, they work well growing in hanging baskets, pots, or simply on the ground. Strawberry plants spread by producing runners, so you can harvest these as they grow to create more strawberry plants!
Finally, what would a garden be without a flower or two? Sunflowers, with their vibrant colours and impressive stature, are a must for any child's garden. Try planting just one or two, as they tend to take up a fair amount of space. These lovely flowers sprout in about a week, become a seedling in two, and in a month can reach 2"tall. If you decide to grow sunflowers, make sure they are the confectionery type grown for food, that way you can gather and dry your flowers' seeds in the late summer, and roast them for a tasty treat.
Stay tuned for next weeks' blog post where we will share some of our favourite DIY gardening activities for kids and parents alike...