The kindergarten teacher leaned into her group of lively 5 year olds and asked, “What color are carrots?”
My daughter’s hand shot up with a grin reaching to her ears. “Red!”
“No…” the teacher replied and gently repeated the question. But the spunky redhead who most definitely knew her colors didn’t let it go. “Yes, carrots can be red! We picked them from our garden!”
“Well, I would love to see those,” the teacher assured her before moving on to the actual color of the day.
Excited, my daughter trotted home that evening asking me to text her teacher the photos of her red carrots, which in good nature, her teacher found fascinating.
And I beamed with pride just a bit myself.
My foray into the world of gardening began when my children were too young to remember a world without a garden in their backyard. I tried to be intentional in sharing my hobby with them, but I never intended to force it. Wanting the experience of a home garden to provide a source of both knowledge for their futures and joy in their childhood, I worked to pepper work ethic, delight, and education in various degrees as they have matured.
Although we do enjoy idyllic evenings working in the garden as a family, we also encounter the opposite — especially when the enticement of a cool pool on a hot summer day beckons and I’m left alone to tend to the garden chores.
Overall, though, I’ll take the evenings working alone for the experiences my children have had in the garden as they’ve grown.
Because many parents and grandparents share my belief that a child’s summer should consist of more time in nature and fewer hours on screens, I’ve compiled ideas to help parents and grandparents guide children of various ages to get involved and experience the joys of a home garden.
Age 2-4: In the early years, give children a shovel and let them dig and explore while you work in the garden alongside them. While their hands and feet turn brown, they’ll begin learning about earthworms, beetles, toads, and other life in the garden in addition to the fruits and vegetables. Let them plant larger seeds that their fingers can easily grasp, such as beans, peas, and watermelon. At this age, they can also begin harvesting some of the easier crops like blueberries, strawberries, and beans.
Age 4-8: One year I gave my kids, age 8 and 4 at the time, their own raised beds. With my guidance, they chose the crops they wanted to grow and planted the seeds and transplants themselves. This is an ideal time to introduce responsibility and let their individuality come alive in the garden. While tedious chores like weeding might be too much to expect, having supervised gardens of their own will provide a rewarding, educational experience.
Age 8-10: At this age, kids can start doing more advanced garden work like digging furrows and weeding the garden. (I’m not promising they’ll like the weeding any more than we do, though). They can also harvest crops that require more care, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash.
Age 10 & up: At this age, children who have grown up with a garden may begin to lose the interest they showed in the early years (though first-time gardeners at this age still enjoy the wonder of it all). Adapt to the child’s natural interests. Boys may find fulfillment in helping build a raised bed, installing a watering system, or participating in a hands-on garden project. Girls who like flowers may want to pick out their own and plant them, or they might enjoy harvesting and then cooking what they picked.
I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned in five years of gardening with my children is to enjoy the little moments and don’t expect too much. Most evenings, I head out to the garden alone while my kids jump on the trampoline or swim in the pool. But usually it’s not long before one of them joins me in the garden, if for nothing else than to see the progress. I’m good with that. Kids are kids and they may not enjoy the garden like I do, but they’re still participating, exploring, learning, and enjoying the progress.
Even if they never grow their own gardens as adults, they’ll at least have fond childhood memories, and that’s success in my view.