What’s a great way to get your kids more interested in fruits and vegetables? Get them gardening and you’ll see the most veggie-phobic child start to nibble things right off the vine.
At this time of year, your garden is in maintenance mode: you’re watching things grow, watering well, and waiting. Here are some more ways to keep your kids involved in the garden beyond playing in the spray of the hose.
How much has a plant grown? Just like a growth chart for your child, you can measure how fast a plant is growing with a measuring tape or yard stick. Let your child keep a journal of what they’re learning. Why did a plant grow more last week than this week? Have you fertilized it or watered it more?
Skills used: observation, measurement.
Which plants need more water? How do you know how much water you’re giving them? Tape a dixie or solo cup to a Popsicle stick and put it near the plants. Allow your child to monitor how much water the plant may be getting versus how much it really needs. Did you know as plants like tomatoes and zucchini set fruits, their water needs go way up?
Skills used: observation, research, measurement.
Can you guess when that tomato will be ready? Place your bets on which day it will finally be ripe and the winner gets to pick it! Your child can help you watch for fruits and veggies ready to go from yard to table. If your kids are too eager and pick things too soon, consider a taste comparison of a ripened fruit versus one picked too early to help them learn to wait. You can also check the seed packets to see how long it takes a plant to go from seed to harvest, then determine what day you’re on.
Skills used: observation, patience.
If you’re serious about gardening and plan to do it for years to come, enlist your child as the journal keeper. Help them draw the layout of your yard then label what you planted where. What’s growing well, what may need to be moved? They can track the number of hours of sun and shade.
Skills used: observation, drawing, writing.
Do you know your soil’s PH can affect a plant’s growth? To get a basic idea of where your soil falls, consider doing this basic soil test. It only requires baking soda, vinegar, and a little time to determine whether your soil is acidic or alkaline. If you want to know more specifics, consider sending in soil samples to the local extension office. For a fee of $35 per sample, they’ll break down the soil for you so you’ll know what you need to add to your soil for the best garden results!
Skills used: observation, research, fine motor (digging).
If your little one loves bugs, this is a great activity for them. How many bugs can they find on each plant? Why do certain insects like certain plants? Are any insects harmful? You might find pill bugs, daddy long-legs, earwigs, aphids, lacewings, and several types of bees in your yard at once. Do you see them more at certain times of day? Are any laying eggs on our plants, and is that good or bad?
Skills used: observation, identification, research.
What’s growing in your yard? Did you know that common weeds can reveal a lot of information about the quality of your soil? Identify what’s growing by going online or taking a sample into a local garden center. Your child may learn that dandelions and lettuce are cousins (if you’ve ever seen lettuce go to seed, you’d know) or that goosefoot is considered a tasty green in some cultures and it’s also related to quinoa. Study what makes a weed so weedy. Help them pull up the roots and study how such big plants have such tiny foundations. How long will their seeds survive? When is the best time to pull a weed? Determine some distinguishing features between the plants you want and the weeds you don’t- so your children can become the weed warriors for your yard!
Skills used: identification, research, fine motor (weeding).
Do your tomatoes have blooms but no fruit is forming? Are your zucchini blossoms bright and cheery but you have nothing to show for it? Call in the Love Doctor to help the plants along. Tomatoes have all the necessary parts in the bloom, but those parts need help connecting and spreading the pollen around. Teach your child to shake the stems or tomato cages gently to encourage the flower parts to rub together. Squashes like zucchini have male and female blooms and rely on bees and other insects to spread the pollen from male to female. If you haven’t seen many zucchini by now, give your child a small paint brush or a q-tip to share the pollen between blooms. With older children, you can dissect the male blooms to look at flower parts (the female blooms produce the squash so be sure to leave those!)
Skills used: fine motor skills, matchmaking
Create a Job
If you, like me, have a toddler who may not be up for writing things down (yet), it’s time to get creative. My boy loves to hunt bugs and find new tomatoes. But his favorite job so far has been washing all the plastic pots I use for seedlings. Utter joy.
Skills used: getting messy- the best part about gardening!
If anything, gardening is an experiment. Every year is different, and as your kids grow, so will their skill sets. Keeping them involved in the outdoors, watching their food grow while observing how the environment affects it is a fantastic summertime activity for your whole family.