Page 1 of 2
Any parent who gardens has a blissful dream of afternoons spent cultivating with their pint-sized companions contentedly playing independently in the dirt nearby, while older children hum a happy tune and weed among the peas. In this fantasy, our kids are grateful for the time in the garden, curious about the plants and process, and hungry for the fruits of our combined effort.
While there is no simple recipe for realizing this ideal, engaging children’s imagination in the garden is a good place to start.
The Five Senses
Young children learn by exploring the world with all five of their senses. Encourage this natural curiosity in the garden by growing plants that beg to be seen, touched, felt, smelled and tasted!
Sight - Plant a rainbow of carrots. The only thing that beats crunchy orange carrots fresh from the garden, are crunchy yellow, purple and red carrots fresh from the garden. Children can’t resist pulling and tasting, these heirloom vegetables! We plant WestCoast Seeds rainbow blend, and delight in having the color of our carrots be a surprise. Other veggies to astound curious eyes include zebra-stripped beets, purple broccoli and all colors of heirloom tomatoes.
Smell - Anybody who has caught a fragrance on the wind and been transported back to childhood knows first hand how powerfully our sense of smell affects us. No wonder children love to explore the scents in the garden. You will also love the aromas in the air if you plant to nurture this exploration. Our favorites include: Lavender, Geranium, Mint, Rosemary, Jasmine, Lilac, Rose and Lemon Balm.
Sound - Natural sounds in the garden create a calm place for exploration. For older children, a water feature can provide endless engagement with tadpoles or fish. Smaller children need constant attention near water and are better restricted to a garden hose and watering can. Encouraging bees and birds with planters, feeders and houses will also fill the garden with the sounds of nature.
Touch - Kids want to touch everything and while not everything in the garden can handle their tough love, allowing them to get their hands dirty is the most engaging way to interact with the garden. Very young children need a place to dig. Preschoolers want to pick. And primary age children develop empathy when they nurture growth. Growing a variety of textures like fuzzy lambs ear and wooly thyme encourages the imagination, while some endurance plants – like daisies and chives – provide ample picking opportunity, a critical element for decorating mud pies, concocting buckets of garden soup or arrange beautiful bunches of bouquets.
Taste - Kids are bolder when trying foods they’ve grown themselves! Perhaps this is because garden grown veggies are so much sweeter than produce from the store, or even the market. Garden hose salad is a favorite – pick, wash, eat! It’s also fun to help kids envision what the garden can become by planning a few meals and planting for these. Even in small spaces, you can grow your own vegetable soup – basil, oregano, carrots, peas, potatoes & tomatoes!
Capture your child’s imagination by growing extremes. Our children delight in gigantic sunflowers, colossal pumpkins and monstrous zucchinis. (Huge zucchinis loose their flavor, so pick most at a smaller size and let one grow huge for fun. Use it to bake chocolate zucchini cake on masse.) At the other end of spectrum, teeny tiny grape tomatoes are a delicacy for teeny tiny people! Continue on to thenext page for playful plants, garden structures and garden-themed story favorites.