By Leigh Ann Dutton, Contributing Writer
Being in my garden is one of my favorite things to do.
I love the smell of fresh dirt and feeling the mist from the water hose as I spray my vegetables on a hot summer evening.
I love working with my hands and the ache of my back from tilling the soil.
I love the silence and disconnect from technology.
And I especially love doing all of these things with my toddler and preschooler next to me.
Last year we started our first raised bed vegetable garden. It was the first time we were able to garden together as a family, and we had so much fun!
Children learn so much from just doing life alongside their parents. I would love for my children to understand where their foods come from (or at least where it can come from), and I want them to enjoy healthy food (because let’s be honest – food straight from the earth that traveled no further than a few hundred feet tastes much better than supermarket food!).
We already prepare, eat, and clean up each meal together; therefore, extending our work into our backyard has made the work inside even more fun!
I want to share some ways to include your toddler or preschooler in the garden with you. Letting your child work with you in the garden is so rewarding and teaches your child valuable lessons for down the road!
10 Ways to Include Toddlers and Preschoolers in the Garden
1. Start seeds inside
Children are great helpers when you’re getting seeds started inside! They’ll even help you remember to water the little seedlings regularly.
Let your child place the seeds in the holes and water the pods. Just place a large dish underneath to catch the overflow and inevitable misses.
2. Transplant starter plants
Once you’re ready to transfer your plants outside, have your child help you. Let them dig the hole for the starter plant to go into. Show them how to carefully release the roots from the pot, and have them cover the hole with dirt.
3. Plan the garden
Let your child give his or her input as to where to plant each row. My son loved helping me place the seed packets on each square before we started planting seeds.
4. Measure spacing
The garden is a great time to talk about measurements. Many of the plants have to be spaced a certain amount. Let your child help you measure (even if you usually eyeball it, let them use a ruler or measuring stick).
5. Help water the garden
Give your child a watering can and let him or her help you water the garden. Both of my children love doing this with me!
6. Create garden markers
This is a fun activity to let your toddler or preschooler do in the middle of the yard! Give your child some paints and let him or her paint some rocks. Let the rocks dry in the sun, then write the names of your herbs or vegetables on each rock. Let your child help you place the rocks next to each plant.
7. Pull weeds together
This isn’t always a super popular activity for anyone, but teaching my children how to pull weeds and why has presented some great learning opportunities.
8. Harvest vegetables together
This is always my boys’ favorite time of the year! They love nothing more than eating fresh peas off the vine and eating all the strawberries before we even get them inside to wash!
My preschooler loves to help me gather herbs in the morning for our day’s meals. He’s even great at cutting them himself.
9. Rinse vegetables in the sink
There are so many ways to include your toddler in the kitchen. Why not let them rinse the vegetables and herbs you harvested from the garden in the sink?
10. Create a menu plan together with vegetables from the garden
Once you’ve washed the vegetables for use, let your child help you determine how to eat them.
Do they think eating raw carrots with probiotic ranch dressing sounds good, or would today be a good day for roasting the carrots in the oven?
Give your child freedom to help you choose how to use the food you’ve harvested!
I have found that by involving my toddler and preschooler in the garden with me, getting them to eat their vegetables is much simpler. There is something about knowing you helped something grow that makes it attractive when placed on your plate for dinner.
Remember, this age is all about exploring and learning to love gardening. Don’t force your young child to be involved if they aren’t interested. Play into their curiosity and make being with you in the garden fun. As they grow, you’ll be able to establish mandatory chores and work times, but for now, let them be with you and enjoy getting their hands dirty in God’s creation!
What does your toddler or preschooler enjoy doing in the garden? What fun tips would you add to this list? How do you involve your toddlers and preschoolers in the garden?
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