8 Ideas for Backyard Gardening with Preschoolers
It’s snowing today in Indianapolis, but my thoughts are already on spring… so I thought I’d share some ideas for ways you can dig in and garden with your kids.
1. Pray and Praise. Gardening with your children is lots of fun-and it’s a great way to introduce them to the value of hard work and interesting facts about biology. But most importantly, gardening is a powerful, hands-on way your children can encounter God. It’s a chance for them to wonder at God’s power, his artistic attention to detail, and his provision for us. It’s a way to learn about the first Creation and also to see creation going on, over and over again, right before their eyes. It’s an opportunity to feel God’s presence in the midst of outdoor sights, sounds, and smells. So as you work together on a garden this spring and summer, make it a habit to draw your children’s attention to God. Talk aloud to God together; sing hymns like “This is My Father’s World” and “For the Beauty of the Earth.”
2. Plan a Rainbow Garden. Learning about colors is extra fun when they’re sprouting in the backyard! Plan a garden that includes a variety of colored vegetables, such as strawberries and tomatoes; carrots and pumpkins; yellow summer squash; cucumbers and green beans; and eggplant and purple cabbage. You could also grow multi-colored bell pepper varieties-each one is a rainbow in itself! And when it comes to harvest time, this variety of colored vegetables will provide lots of important nutrients and vitamins your kids need.
3. Plant Perennial Herbs. Little ones are ensured gardening “success” when they raise and care for tenacious little plants like mint and chives. These hearty growers are able to withstand poor weather and mediocre soil; they need little care beyond sun and rain. And best of all, they’re lots of fun! Kids can pluck off mint leaves to chew or make mint “tea” (leaves stirred in ice water); my son Davis loves giving our massive bunch of chives silly “haircuts.” (Important tip: Plant your mint in a deep pot and then plant the pot in your garden. This will prevent runners from taking over the rest of your garden!)
4. Sew Mystery Seeds. Get seeds for a few different-very different-plants, such as sunflowers, watermelons, bush beans, cucumbers, and carrots. Then help your children create a Mystery Seed Patch in your garden by planting a few of each type of seed. Keep the true of identity of each seed a secret (but be sure to keep track in your own mind, making sure to provide the necessary space for each plant once it matures.) Each day during the summer, make observations about how the plants are growing and encourage your children to guess what each plant is. Your kids will be surprised and delighted to see how God packs such variety into similarly small and plain seeds.
5. Dig and Dump. One of the amazing things about God’s creation is how organic matter biodegrades, helping to create rich, fertile soil. Introduce your kids to the idea that God can use “garbage” for amazing purposes by creating a compost hole in your garden every week or two. Just dig a small deep hole and dump in organic matter from the kitchen, such as coffee grinds, tea leaves, crushed egg shells, and leftover veggie parts (no meat, dairy, or citrus). Cover the hole well with dirt. Over time, that spot will have generated nutrient rich dirt for next year’s garden.
6. Personalize It. Kids will love working and playing in a garden that feels like it’s theirs, so help them decorate their garden with simple crafts. Paint a few rocks to look like bugs; decorate tongue depressors with the veggies’ names; come up with a creative name for the garden and post it on a simple wooden sign; use colorful ribbon or yarn to tie plants to stakes; make a cement walking stone with an inexpensive kit from the craft store.
7. Tend It, Taste It. It’s a great joy for little ones to harvest the produce they’ve helped to grow. And even the pickiest eaters are likely to try something new if they grow it themselves. So plan your garden with the end result-eating-in mind. Include a few veggies your kids already like, and try to plan your garden seasonally so you’ll yield produce throughout the process. For example, include lettuce, herbs, and peas (late spring/early summer); zucchini, strawberry, cucumbers, carrots (mid-summer); tomatoes, beans, and winter squash, (late-summer and early-fall). For fun garden-based recipes plus tips on freezing and storing your home-grown produce, check out the fabulous book From Asparagus to Zucchini.
8. Watch It Grow. Help your children create a simple scrapbook documenting their backyard adventure. Use your camera to take a few weekly photos of your garden and your kids at work in it, then take time every so often to write (or help your kids write) observations about the garden, like what’s growing or what the weather has been like. Include Bible verses about God’s creation and His provision, and don’t forget to write down funny stories or cute conversations you’ve had while working together. Be sure to also get pictures of your kids harvested and eating their veggies as well as snapshots of your kids delivering extra veggies to neighbors as gifts. It will be a treasured keepsake for you-and fun bed-time reading for your children.