Family Fun

By Lauren Baumbauer

July 3, 2009 5 min read


Educational adventures await your children in the garden

Lauren Baumbauer

Creators News Service

The backyard is a source of amazing adventures for kids, which makes it ideal for creating a garden as a family.

According to the National Gardening Association (NGA), a national nonprofit leader in plant-based education, 55 percent of U.S. households believe gardening activities should be implemented whenever possible.

"It plants the seed for kids' future interests," said Joe Lamp'l, host of's gardening videos and a gardener for over 30 years. He should know -- he has had a passion for gardening since childhood.

"Gardening is an intergenerational activity," added Sarah Pounders, education director for NGA. "[It] is flexible, so it can move with you through your life."

When tending to their plants, young ones get out of the house to do something outdoors that involves exercise, whether it means digging or playing through an imaginary jungle. "Every garden has its quirks. Kids can discover their own gardening endeavors if you keep exposing them to opportunities and getting them outside," Lamp'l said.

Meanwhile, children learn how to spell plant and botanical names, as well as develop math skills from counting out things like seeds and rows for the plants. "There are unlimited opportunities with science, art and design," he added.

The benefits extend to the kitchen. A garden is a great way to get a child to eat vegetables, according to Pounders, because "they're more likely to eat veggies and fruits they grow themselves."

Getting the family involved in the growth of a vegetable or flower from the beginning to end helps keep the children engaged and responsible for taking care of the garden.

Be willing to let them experiment without uptight expectations. "A garden with kids involved isn't going to look like a garden from a magazine," Pounders said. "Kids pull plants out."

For very young children, Pounders recommended starting them off with container gardens. These types of gardens don't take a lot of time. Anything that you can create holes in which isn't toxic should work, such as yogurt containers or butter tubs.

Fruits, vegetables and flowers can be bought as seedlings from a nursery. The containers can be placed in a big empty bucket or something with wheels so the kids can cart the plants and admire them from anywhere, even the bedroom.

Also make sure they can see their garden regularly. "It will remind them to water it," said Pounders. "But be careful, because kids tend to overwater."

A theme garden is an engaging way for kids to learn and plan gardens with fun results. Lamp'l suggested a pizza garden. "Create a garden in the shape of a pizza and each slice has different vegetables," he said. The family can also enjoy the vegetables later as toppings on their own homemade pizza.

Other than planting, families can also enjoy picnics by their gardens, create a nook for reading or install play structures in the middle. Pounders recommended using hardy plants and herbs where kids will play so the plants can withstand the abuse.

Tomatoes, spinach, radishes, beans, marigolds, petunias and sunflowers are just a small sampling of plants parents can grow with their children. Make sure what goes into the garden isn't poisonous and be careful of anything with thorns for very young gardeners who may not know to be careful.

Some unique and fun plants for children to grow include the mimosa pudica, or sensitive plant, whose leaves fold closed when touched gently and then reopen; lamb's ear, a plant which is covered in a hairy growth that's soft to the touch; ground cherries, a type of tomato that grows in a papery-thin husk kids can tear open; peanuts; and chocolate mint, a type of mint plant with a similar flavor to chocolate peppermint candies.

Safety is crucial. Make sure tools and supplies are always put away, since they are tripping hazards. Also make sure to wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.

Gardening truly is an adventure for the whole family, with long lasting benefits and multitudes of rewards. Decide together the best way to start a garden and watch it grow.

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