Gardening With Children: How to Make Growing Food Fun

, written by Jeremy Dore gb flag

Child with a potato

There is an art to gardening with children - one that I haven't yet mastered.  I know we are not the only family who wants to get their children involved with the vegetable plot.  The fresh air and exercise, the knowledge of healthy food sources and the satisfaction of home-grown plants – it all conjures up images of idyllic childhood experiences.  But how can gardening compete with their activity-packed world, with tennis lessons and computer games?

My wife and I are both trained teachers and we now home-educate our two children.  You might think that the two go well together – that imparting knowledge to a class of 30 children must surely make it easier to teach two.  But it doesn't really work like that – home education is more a process of re-learning how to learn, of exploring together rather than being the source of knowledge.  I think that gardening with children is similar.  All too easily we can come to it with our preconceived ideas of what 'end result' we would like to produce, what 'benefits' there are in it for our children and – worst of all – the dreaded list of jobs that we need to tick off in the time available.  All of these can work at first - when the project is new - but in the long term motivation dwindles and the interest evaporates.  At this point all the benefits are lost in my opinion. 

Child by a pond

Expectations are the key here: increasingly I think it is my gardener's mentality that gets in the way of good garden time with my children.  'I'll just finish weeding this row' can make the difference between finishing our time in the garden on a high of 'that was fun' and memories of having to hang around while dad finishes his work. Last year, when we had just started gardening on a new allotment, my daughter was so enthusiastic that she happily weeded whole sections of it.  Needless to say, that level of commitment dwindled to 'Do we have to go?'  after a month or two!  This year, they have their own spaces in our small front garden to make it easier to pop out for short periods.

Children approach nature with a blank sheet – part of the wonder of sharing their childhood with them.  On occasions I have spent hours with them while they hunt for worms and re-home them, swing on a garden fork to dig up carrots, discover potatoes that we didn't know were there or just have a good chat in the sunshine.  Friends of ours have a whole patch  just dedicated to making dens, with swings and props brought out from the shed when they visit.  These successes – the golden moments of connection – are so beneficial and teach our children by far the most valuable lessons in life.

Child's garden

So, here's my list of tips for getting children involved.  It's very much a work-in-progress:

  • Give them as much choice as possible: from choosing varieties that have unusual colours or look fun in the catalogue to deciding what to get involved in
  • Keep activities short but with the option of extending the time if they get into it
  • Go with the flow: watch for what they are discovering, abandon your plans and spend that time digging a hole, hunting 'baddies' or marvelling at a dew-laden spiders web
  • Don't be afraid to take shortcuts where needed – using seed tapes (which space the seeds for you) or bought-in plants
  • Schedule other time to get the list of jobs done
  • Keep it fun and change what you are doing if it isn't

Gardening with children is an art and like any art it takes time to master but is immensely satisfying as you begin to see the world through different eyes.  I'm still learning the art, so why not share your ideas and experiences of what works for you by adding a comment below?

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Comments

 
"I've been allotment gardening with my five children for a few years now (had only three when we first got our plot). Gardening with children isn't hard, I think, just different. I've just started blogging too and posted about it a couple of days ago, visit www.carrotsandkids.blogspot.com if you're interested. I've heard of seed tapes but have never found them - any tips where to get them? Mrs Be. PS. We used to home-educate too. I remember blissful sunny afternoons digging with them....sigh."
Mrs Be on Wednesday 9 April 2008
"Mrs Be: I like your extra tips such as having a child-sized tool each - clearly the voice of experience! Seed tapes are available from Suttons seeds (http://www.suttons.co.uk/pl_Groweasy_Seed-Tapes.htm.)"
Jeremy Dore on Wednesday 9 April 2008
"Thanks for the infor on seed tapes -I'm going to check them out now! Have you used them and if so were they successful?"
Mrs Be on Wednesday 9 April 2008
"No, I've not used them myself, but read about them in an article on gardening with children in Kitchen Garden magazine a year or so ago and they seemed like a really good idea. The writer had used them with her family very successfully and when I have a bit more space I may well give them a go."
Jeremy Dore on Wednesday 9 April 2008
"Hi, i'v got a five year old and an alotment he love coming over with me, we made it fun for him as well as helping me on the main planting he has his own area with a runner bean wigwam. he loves playing on the wood chip pile and if he still gets boared he can play football on the grassed area. he also learns where food comes from which some kids dont know. he also likes to try new things if he's grown them himself."
maggie on Friday 6 June 2008
"Maggie, I love the idea of your runner bean wigwam being a play area for your 5 year old - sounds like great fun!"
Jeremy Dore on Saturday 7 June 2008
"We've started our boy VERY young in the garden and now it's second nature to him to be out there with us! In fact, he'll only eat fruit he sees picked from the garden and cries when we go inside! Here's some of the things we've been doing over the past year: https://gardeningwithboys.com/2016/08/09/gardening-activities-for-babies-toddlers/ "
Helen Lee on Monday 5 September 2016

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