This post is all about how you can get kids learning in the garden. You don’t need a lot of space for gardening activities with kids: even a pot will do the trick. We practically live outdoors in these warmer months, so it’s the perfect time to get green and grubby with your kids. I’m putting my horticulturist’s hat on today to share a few of my favourite gardening activities that I do with kids:
Get your gardening licence
I’ve done this one with kids ranging from grades 2 to 4 in school garden programs, but it works really well at home, too. All you need to do is come up with a list of age appropriate garden tasks for the kids. Write or type them out on a sheet of paper titled ‘Garden Licence Test’ and tick them off as they go. I like to make up a little gardening licence certificate – or maybe you could away them their own garden trowel!
The kinds of tasks you could include are:
- Wheeling a wheelbarrow either in a straight line or around a few obstacles.
- Digging a hole with a spade to a certain depth.
- Identifying a few edible plants in the garden.
- Showing how to safely lift something.
- Filling and using a watering can.
- Using secateurs (for older kids).
- Showing how to apply mulch around plants.
- Turning the compost.
- Planting seeds (spacing, depth and watering).
- Build a worm farm.
- If you have chickens, you could include collecting eggs or filling food and water.
Plant fast-growing seeds
Some of the most reliable and fastest maturing plants to grow from seed are: radish, spinach and beans. Beans are great because the seed itself is so big, it’s easy for the littlest kids to handle. A general rule of thumb for edibles is 5 hours of sun per day. Give the seeds (whether they are in the ground or in a pot on the balcony) a very light spray or sprinkle of water daily, to keep the soil from drying out.
Of course, the most spectacular, easily-grown plant loved by all kids is the sunflower. We throw in a few packets of seeds around our herb and veggie gardens each Spring, so the kids have them every Summer. Leave the dried out flower heads on the plants to see the sphere of black, edible sunflower seeds develop. You can then save some to plant again next year (which is a great learning opportunity on the plant life cycle), eat them straight from the plant, or feed them to birds.
Make a bird feeder to hang in the garden
If you have an active cat, this may not be a garden activity for you! However, if your family enjoys welcoming birds into the garden, this is a lot of fun. You can make it as simple or elaborate as you like: we’ve done with as little as some wild bird seed mixed with honey and shaped around a stick that is hung up in a tree. The kids love seeing which birds it attracts and if different seed mixes attract different types of birds. Your kids might enjoy creating a little log book and drawing the different birds they see, then looking them up in a bird book. Although, we do tend to get overrun by cockies, who demolish the seed stick in about 10 minutes flat!
Make a terrarium
Did you do these as kids, from a coke bottle? I remember saving plastic bottles, cutting off the tops and filling them with soil and plants, then replacing the top section as the ‘lid’. Terrariums have had such a resurgence in popularity over the last few years, so there are plenty of purpose-made containers and resources you can use.
To be a complete terrarium, it should have a lid to fully enclose it, so the condensation is collect and retained as ‘rain’ in the vessel. Apply thin layers of small stones, a little charcoal (to purify the air within the terrarium), then your growing medium (potting mix). Plant your plants (select small ones that aren’t touching the sides of the terrarium) then decorate with small stones, sand and little figurines to make it fun.
It might be a little bit of trial and error to work out which plants work best, where to place the terrarium for the right amount of light, without it suffering (somewhere that just receives morning sun is often the best spot) and watering regime – do you need to add additional water? How frequently? Is it too wet? Maybe you need to remove the lid to let it dry out?
My daughter drags her stool out every day to check on her row of little indoor gardens on the window sill – it’s a great activity that also brings a bit of the outdoors into your home.
Create plant markers
Maybe you have an arty crafty child? For kids who like the idea of being in the garden, but not the getting dirty part, enlist them to create plant markers. You could do this on paper that you then laminate and hang in the garden, or you could paint timber with blackboard paint. We’ve also used clay to roll out and etch in plant names, then painted and varnished when dry. You could even find some nice big, smooth stones and paint on them.
Create a fairy garden
We’re in the midst of fairy-obsession at our place right now. So, every week something gets added to the ‘fairy garden’. Miss 4 is currently insisting that her fairies have a BBQ created for them, in miniature. Not sure how that one is going to work . . . Your fairy garden could be in a pot with a little tepee made of sticks and a few stones for a path. Or, you could give over a whole garden bed and fill it with foxgloves, snapdragons and winding paths. We bought an inexpensive bag of pink and purple ‘stones’ that our kids use to re-make the garden paths all the time. We use a broken terracotta pot, turn upside down, as the main fairy house and are growing different coloured sedums around it as the ‘carpet’. The kids like leaving little notes for the fairies and little bits of ‘fairy food’ for them to enjoy.
Grow plants in the shape of letters
This is a fun addition to the herb garden, especially if you can use something like basil or cress. Have your child mark out the first letter of their name with a stick, then sprinkle in seeds to fill the outline. Lightly cover with soil, water, and wait for their letter to appear!
Make a scarecrow
We’ve done this a few times with our kids. All you need are two long sticks or lengths of timber (a broom handle is ideal, but garden stakes work well, too; some straw and old clothes. Try to stick with your kid’s old clothes, and they’ll then have a child-sized scarecrow to talk to – you’ll also require less straw that way, rather than a ‘man-size’ scarecrow. We’ve made the heads by sewing or stapling two round pieces of hessian or calico together and filling with straw. The kids like painting on the faces and even plaiting wool for hair. I don’t think our scarecrows have ever actually scared anything away from our garden, but it’s a nice Worzel Gummidge flashback for us parents.
Use different growing containers
Don’t think you have to stick to black plastic or plain terracotta pots. Make it fun and interesting with seed planting: make your own pots from newspaper, fill patty pan papers with soil and plant seeds; use empty egg shells or hollowed out grapefruits or oranges. You could even plant in old gumboots or recycled plastic bottles, strung up along a fence.
Science experiment: how water moves through plants
Plants have small ‘tubes’ inside them, called a ‘xylem’ and a ‘phloem’. They use the xylem for moving water from their roots all the way up to their leaves. The phloem’s main job is to move the food (mostly sugar created from the process of photosynthesis) around to all the parts of the plant that need it, in order to grow.
Pick a few leaves with stems still on them (large, soft ones work best for this, such as nasturtiums and lettuces.
Put water and food colouring in a glass (dark colours such as red and blue work best) – make it quite strongly coloured – and place your leaf in it, so the stem is fully submerged. Keep it there for a week and note the changes you see, each day. The colour will start showing on the leaf, as the plant absorbs the water.
Of course, there’s endless ways to involve kids in the garden. From more scientific experiments for older kids, to hands on harvesting and cooking for younger ones. Look for garden-related story books at your library – Eric Carle is perennially popular! – to inspire garden art and growing foracys.
Understanding how to grow your own food is such an important life skill that is not so common nowadays. It so fun and satisfying. If you can give your kids their own little plot – in a yard or a pot, let them choose what to grow and how to grow it. It’s how I learned how to grow a garden from the time I was 5 years old – and in my 40s, I’m still learning and growing.
Curriculum based gardening activities:
How to fold newspaper pots:
For activity, curriculum planning and recipe ideas:
A good range of ‘how-to’ posts on garden activities:
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