With spring finally here, there’s a lot to do out in the garden — leaves to clear off the flower beds, roses to prune, perennials to relocate and early annuals to plant, of course. It’s a wondrous time to share with your children, but it can be a tough one too, trying to figure out how to occupy them while you’re busy getting your hands dirty. It might be tempting to just put on the TV, or let your partner take them out for a while, but then you’d be missing out on an ideal opportunity to demonstrate both stewardship of nature and love for the great outdoors. And the work will go a lot faster — and be more fun! — with more hands involved.
So don’t think of gardening and parenting as separate activities. Get your kids in on the garden work too! Kids love chores, or they will if they feel you value their work, and if you give them real work that needs to be done. Here are seven suggestions of how even the tiniest of hands can help in the garden, and have a good time while they’re at it.
image-3311 1 of 8Click through to see all the ways that my little guy helps out!
Making Piles of Clippings and Leaves 2 of 8A few years ago, when Felix first started mimicking me while I swept the kitchen floor — herding dust bunnies with a dustpan and brush — my parents bought him a set of mini-brooms and a mop. Show him a scattering of stuff, whether it be dirt, crumbs, or, in this case, forsythia clippings (leftovers from forcing some blooms earlier in the month), and he'll tame it into a pile. Might take him awhile, sure, and there can sometimes be a meltdown if things don't quite stay in the place he wants them to, but for the most part sweeping is just the right kind of organizational activity for him. It satisfies, but doesn't require too much neatness. Getting him to scoop all of that stuff into a compost bucket is another story...
Have your child clean up messy areas of the garden or the patio.
Removing Old Plants and Brush 3 of 8"See this old, dried out plant stem?" I told Felix. "Underneath it are the roots. Your mission is to remove the plant, roots and all, from the pot without spilling too much dirt." When he figured out that he couldn't just pull the thing out, he took his trowel and he dug, levered, and shimmied the thing up bit by bit. Now, I could've done the job faster myself, sure. But while he worked on that, my wife pruned the roses and I transplanted some Black-Eyed Susans. We were all engaged in our various tasks, working together and enjoying the fresh air. Isn't that what family time in the garden is about? Plus, think of all the physical concepts he learned trying to wedge that thing out of there!
Have your children help clean out flower beds and pots by removing old sticks, leaves, and plants.
Turning the Compost 4 of 8We pile our organic scraps — egg shells, coffee grinds, natural sponges, and any vegetable or fruit clipping — in the back of our yard. We add plant and grass clippings and small sticks too. A few times a year, we sift out the dark, rich compost that this material has created through decomposition. The pile can always be turned, at least to the extent a four year old is able. A little agitation will make the pile cook faster, aerating the mass and spreading the scraps for the red-wriggler worms who will make it their dinner. As long as he's careful, and we're able to keep half an eye on him, Felix enjoys prodding and poking the pile.
Give your child a trowel and let them turn bits of the compost pile.
Planting New Plants 5 of 8Supervision might be required with little ones, but the best way for a child to learn about a plant, and how to respect and care for the natural world, is to actually get in the dirt and plant one. Here, my wife is showing Felix how to plant pansies. He was able to observe how the roots were growing in the soil, and identify the parts of the plant. They dug the holes together, and he gently placed each one in. As he gets older, he'll surely care for his own pots and beds. Don't take sole ownership of the garden, or rope it off as part of the adult world, let your kids take part in it, too.
Give your children their own area to plant, or allow them to help you as you plant new seedlings.
Digging Holes 6 of 8This one's a no-brainer. You can have your child dig to help you plant, or you can show them a bed that will soon be planted and see if they can loosen up the soil. Or, you can just give them a place to dig. Felix likes using his trowel to dig holes, filling up his dump trucks, and driving them around the grimy, post-apocalyptic landscape that he creates in the dirt.
Give 'em a trowel or a plastic cultivator and let 'em go to town!
Stacking up Rocks and Bricks 7 of 8Especially in spring, there can be rocks and sticks and various inorganic thing-a-mig-jiggers that need to be relocated. Here, Felix is moving bricks from the border of one bed, which he then carefully carried and stacked up on the patio. He did an excellent job, and could've moved bricks all afternoon probably. We ran out of bricks long before he ran out of steam.
Find a pile of things to be moved and have your child move them.
Watering 8 of 8I almost forgot this one, because it goes without saying around here that little kids like playing with water. All through the winter, Felix took care of a little patch of plants by our backdoor, checking to see if the soil was dry, and fetching water in a cup from the bathroom sink if they needed a drink. He hardly needed to be reminded about this — he took pride in managing those plants. And it became part of a routine; Saturdays were watering days. Whenever we plant or work in the garden, he's eager to run the hose (Oy!) or, at the very least, lug around the watering can.
Give your child a full watering can and set them loose on the garden!