Starting a garden is a great way to ensure that you have regular access to high-quality produce. There are many good reasons for anyone to start a garden – it allows you to know that your food is organic, a garden gives you access to nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables because of extra time to ripen, creating a garden has positive impacts on the environment, growing your own produce can save you substantial amounts of money, working in the garden keeps you active and the process is rewarding.
However, for families with kids, starting a garden has additional benefits. Not only does gardening encourage kids to eat more fruits and vegetables and to be thoughtful about what they are eating, but it also provides families with a project that they can work on together, which can be a powerful experience for all. Further, gardening teaches many important life lessons, among them patience, dedication, persistence and the rewards that come from hard work.
Not surprisingly, those all-important lessons can be difficult for kids to endure and can turn gardening into either a forced group activity or a one-person job. In hopes of avoiding either outcome and making a family garden a positive experience, here are some tips to start a garden as a family.
Involve Kids in the Planning Process
To make gardening a family project, it’s important that all family members are invested in the project from the beginning. A great way to do this is to make everyone a part of the planning phase. Here are a few tips for this process:
- Do some homework first and only present kids with options that will be a good fit (space, time of year, region, care required, etc.) for your garden.
- This is an opportunity to build both investment and excitement, so think about letting kids look through a seed catalog or see pictures of the finished project so they can begin to envision what they’re going to grow.
- Once you have selected the items that you’ll grow, get some garden labels and let kids decorate them in anticipation of planting each item.
TIP #1: For your first family gardening activity, present kids with a list of potential fruits and vegetables that will thrive in your region and space. Let each member of the family pick a few items from this list to be part of your garden.
Assign Each Family Member a Role
While starting a garden is a great thing to do as a group project, kids thrive when given specific roles or responsibilities. By delegating some gardening tasks to each family member, you can build additional investment, excitement and commitment to the garden. Plus, it helps to model the importance of everyone doing their part to make the project a success. Here are some ways to do this to make sure these responsibilities are not just “another chore”:
- Make a list of all tasks that will need to be done in starting the garden. Include even the smallest of tasks.
- Explain to kids everything that will have to be done and ask them if there are any jobs that they are especially interested in.
- Note some areas where each child shines and offer them a particular task based on that skill (for example, “Ethan, you are always so good at designing things. Do you want to be in charge of deciding where each item will be planted?”)
- In assigning roles, remember that less is more in the beginning. You want kids to complete their task and look forward to doing it, so start very small to ensure that kids are successful.
TIP #2: Give each family member one gardening job (no matter how small) that they are solely responsible for. Start small, you can always add more!
Make Working in the Garden Part of Your Family’s Daily Routine
Families and kids thrive on routines, and a great way to make sure that your family’s garden is successful is by making it part of the daily routine. Pick a time of day that works for your family and block that off as gardening time, even if it’s only fifteen minutes. Making this a natural part of the day will help you keep the garden cared for and will help to ensure it remains a family project. Adding anything to the routine can be a challenge, so here are some tips for doing this:
- When starting a garden, you’ll likely need to schedule a few big chunks of work time. That time doesn’t need to be part of the daily routine. Instead, maybe plan to spend a Saturday afternoon working in the garden and then reward everyone with ice cream.
- Mornings are often chaotic. For many, right after dinner is a good time to work in the garden.
- Even if you have small children that can’t be as hands on in the garden, include them in the daily routine. They can have a shovel and a pile of dirt, a dump truck or a butterfly net. It doesn’t matter too much what small kids are doing, as long as the whole family makes going outside and working in the garden a part of the scheduled routine.
TIP #3: Find a time in the day where your whole family can go outside and work in the garden, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. Make this gardening time as much a part of the routine as baths, dinner or reading to ensure that the garden is cared for and continues to be a family project.
Find Ways to Connect Each Family Member with the Garden
While gardening is great for so many reasons, there are many parts of gardening that are not particularly glamorous and there can be long stretches with lots of work and very little to show for it. In these seasons, finding ways to get kids excited about the garden is especially important. Think about personalized ways to get your kids (or partner) excited about working in the garden, even on those days when they might be weeding a garden with no visible signs of produce. Here are some ideas for how to do this:
- A fairy garden in or beside the garden can be a great way to keep kids excited about being in the garden. Plus, you can always surprise them with a few extra fairies or accessories when they need a little pick-me-up or extra motivation to get out to the garden.
- Equipment can be a good way to connect with many kids – if they have special gloves or tools that are theirs and only used while gardening, that can bring some extra excitement to the project.
- For entrepreneurial kids, let them take ownership of what’s going to happen once they’ve harvested some produce. Maybe they’ll have a vegetable stand or make some tomato sauce? Let them be creative and run with their ideas!
TIP #4: Find a way to motivate each family member by making sure there’s something in the garden that excites them (whether it’s fairies or special gloves or plans for what you’ll do with the harvest).
The beautiful thing about gardening is that after a good bit of work and patience, the finished product is incredibly rewarding. Seeing what they’ve grown will provide kids with a huge sense of accomplishment and will be a reward in and of itself. That said, adding a little extra celebration to victories in the garden will help to make this a positive family experience. Here are a few ideas of ways to celebrate success in your garden:
- Plan special meals based on what you grow. For example, once you have your first strawberry crop, work together to make a homemade pie for dessert or, once you have tomatoes and peppers, make a homemade pizza.
- Let kids celebrate their success by sharing what they’ve grown with friends and neighbors. It can be really rewarding for kids to show off what they’ve grown and to be able to give some of what they’ve produced to others.
- Document your success – take pictures of kids throughout the many phases of your garden project and hang the pictures in the house as tangible reminders of the progress that you’ve made.
TIP #5: While there are inherent rewards from success in your garden, go above and beyond those and find ways to celebrate and document even the smallest of victories in your family’s garden.
Good luck and happy gardening!
Emily Koelsch is a freelance writer and blogger who has a passion for ensuring that her family is eating and living in a healthy and environmentally-conscious way. Some days this is a beautiful harvest from the backyard, others it’s a trip to the farmer’s market and sometimes it’s frantically opening a can of green beans.
Find out more about Emily and see more of her posts here.