Kids love to be of help, and if we grown-ups can just guide them (or corral them) in the right direction, why in no time, everyone will be full-fledged contributors to the backyard home garden.
Half the battle is understanding how a child thinks. If we can draw our plans in line with their minds, we're good to go.
Teaching Kids To Garden
But what motivates a kid to garden?
The power of possession. As any parent knows, many times the first word out of a young child's mouth is "mine!" Like adults, children have a natural desire to control the environment around them. While often this is an impulse that needs to be curbed, it should be encouraged when it comes to the garden.
"Here, sweetheart, this section of the garden is all yours. You get to grow what you like to eat!"
"Time to feed your plants." The child sprinkles worm poop throughout their garden.
"Now they're thirsty." Hand them the colorful water can and watch them drench their babies but good.
"Oh no, grab that weed before it takes over your baby plant's growing space!" In no time flat they'll yank that stray green out before your very eyes.
Impressive, but then again, kids enjoy being productive (when it's something they care about). Nurture this instinct and watch them grow and blossom right along with their very own vegetable garden.
Once they become authorities on the subject, stand back - they'll even help you with yours! Dropping seeds is easy and provides great counting practice for the wee ones. Tossing compost is great when you're not overly particular as to where it lands.
Fighting Weeds, Enjoying The Harvest
Boys are all about action adventure.
"Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to be on the lookout for weeds. They could be anywhere. On the walkway, in the row, even hiding behind the leaves of the plants. Your job is to grab them, pull them out, and toss them as far from the garden as you can! Weed warriors, man your stations!"
And don't worry about harvest. That's an easy sell. Swimming for potatoes is tons of fun, kinda like digging for buried treasure. Twisting cobs is simple and if you promise they can keep the husks for weaving baskets, tying knots, or crafting corn husk dolls, they're in!
Even shucking beans. If you let them, they'll gladly trade the business of peeling for a few dried beans of their own (the secret ingredient for making maracas and rain sticks).
Once in the kitchen, kids can be of big help, too. Peeling carrots is a job my son loves to perform, as he likes to prove he's a "can do" sort of kid. My daughter is amazing when it comes to slicing carrots and squash for blanching. They are perfect for a middle-of-the-week dinner.
Creativity Beyond The Garden
How about extending the love outside the vegetable garden? Kids will delight in creating sunflower shacks. These flowers grow taller than most kids and when planted in a nice tight circle, they can become the craziest clubhouse for girls.
Don't forget the forts! Get Dad to cut some chicken wire and form it into just the right size and shape, then allow Junior the honors of planting beans all around the base. Before you know it, those vines will twist and turn through the wire and create a thick green shelter, excellent camouflage for a boy's hideout where he can plan his next spy session.
While Dad has his tools out, have him construct some wooden seed signs to inform visitors what's planted and where, particularly the "Kid's Only Veggie Section." Or, how about mark them with arrows? "Billy's fort that-a-away, Sally's clubhouse the other way!"
Don't stop there. Butterfly gardens are huge attractions for kids and butterflies alike, not to mention corn mazes. Amazing what a little distraction can do for a kid. Your church or school may hear about your garden entertainment and decide to start digging one for the community!
For the best kid garden lesson of all, try planting your own pumpkin patch. Select a few of your harvest beauties to carve up for Halloween, but save the flesh - you'll want to make homemade pumpkin pie with it! Don't dare toss the seeds into the compost pile with November's jack-o-lantern. Your child will want to save those in their personalized custom-made seed packets for next year's patch.
Sustainability, one seed at a time!