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Get the Kids Into Gardening at the Cabin

5 tips for successfully introducing your children to the wonderful pastime of digging in the dirt
By Jennifer Baker
Published: May 6, 2014
mother daughter gardening with kids
Photo by Thinkstock.com
I know that look on Amy’s face. I follow my sister’s stare toward the sliding door near the kitchen table. Zane is excitedly trying to open the door with one dirt-covered hand, while clutching a handful of carrots in the other. 

“Ohhhhh, how nice!” I say with slightly forced singsong enthusiasm. The carrots could win The Most Tiny & Skinniest Carrot Contest, if there ever was such a contest.

Before I get sad at the prematurely pulled carrots, thinking how long it took to thin them, I see the enthusiasm pouring from my son and his cousin, and I feel pride in their garden knowledge.

At least they know what a carrot is. They know where to go in the garden to find them. They know carrots are orange roots that grow under the ground with green lacy tops. When they’re older, they’ll still remember the joy of pulling those sunny slender roots from the soil – a present for Mom.
green beans
Photo by Thinkstock.com
The garden was one of the few connections that my sister and I had with my dad when we were Zane’s age. Mixed with the dreadful hours of weeding during our summer vacations were moments spent pulling fat red strawberries from their stalks and eating 'em as fast as we could pick 'em, or mornings surprised by the discovery of a chicken egg laid by a wandering hen among the straw mulch of the asparagus. The garden was work. The garden was an adventure.

As an adult that now actually likes to weed, I think of what made the garden fun when I wore sandals half the length of my now mom-sized feet. Make sure you balance the work with the adventure by following these basic guidelines:
daughter gardening with kids
Photo by Thinkstock.com
1. Keep it simple – If you want to spend time in the garden with your children, keep the agenda breezy. Sometimes a lesson to a child is received like a bad sales pitch: The sooner they know they’re being sold to, the quicker they back away.

Check out the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars eating the carrot tops. Keep checking them out for as long as your kids are interested. Even if that’s the only thing you do with them in the garden that day, they will remember that moment for the rest of their lives. They will remember that swallowtail butterflies were once really cool striped caterpillars that ate carrot tops.

2. Make it fun/bend your rules
– Designate a corner of your garden as the “kid corner” and plant fun plants like sunflowers, the giant ones with huge drooping heads. Let them plant the sunflower seeds in any pattern that they want, or just let them dig with the trowel.
son gardening with kids
Photo by Courtesy David Greer
Also, I always let Zane just have fun digging holes in pre-determined plantless spots in my garden. My garden’s dead zones were his treasure chests. There were rocks to be unearthed and salamanders and gold to be discovered. I believed he absorbed my garden love through osmosis, even if he was only digging holes.

3. Drop your agenda
– It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. Your 10-item to-do list includes tidying up the garden. As you march out to tackle your mission with child in tow, prepare to adjust or even drop your agenda.
daughter carrots gardening with kids
Photo by Thinkstock.com
Just because you’re looking forward to six mindless hours weeding your Swiss chard and arugula doesn’t mean your kid is. Before you attack the weeds, take a moment to show your child what baby chard seedlings look like, what weeds look like, and why weeds are bad. Have them weed for a few minutes just to see … Stay patient even if they’re pulling out chard seedlings with the weeds. Remember that kids are sponges soaking up knowledge that may spawn interest in sowing their future gardens.

4. Make it about smelling & tasting and hiding & seeking
– Search for the reddest tomatoes and eat them off the vine. Crush a lavender hyssop leaf between your fingers so they can smell black jelly beans, and tell them that the taste of licorice comes from herbs. Pretend you’re a rabbit family and nibble lettuce tops. Hide quietly among the asparagus stalks and wait for finches to light on the cloud of fronds that puff over your head. You are planting memories.
mother son gardening with kids
Jennifer Baker with her son, Zane.
Photo by Courtesy David Greer
5. Be in the moment – The trick is keeping yourself present while you’re sharing a moment in the garden with your children, whether you’re at the cabin or at home. Try not to focus on everything else you should/could be doing. Kids can sense when you’re distracted and anxiety-ridden. That’s when the moment loses your good intentions.

So, be patient. Pretend that you’re their age, seeing the garden through their eyes. Your attention and patience may result in your adult children tending gardens of their own. And, who knows? Maybe you’ll be treated with a handful of skinny carrots by your grandkids one sunny summer day.
Jennifer Baker, who’s been digging in the dirt since she was 5 years old, is the owner of Sparrow Land Planning,
www.sparrowlandplanning.com.


sunflower
JENNIFER’S FAVORITE THINGS FOR KIDS TO GROW IN A GARDEN



SUNFLOWERS: Titan and Mongolian Giant – Both have huge heads when mature and produce loads of seeds (great for birds and humans).
tomatoes
TOMATOES: Mexico Midget and Sweet Pea Currant – These red tomatoes are small and fun to pick and eat with little hands.
potatoes
POTATOES: Mountain Rose and Purple Viking – Digging these colorful tubers out of the earth is so fun! Mountain Rose is pink on the outside and inside. Purple Viking is striking purple on the outside – a surprise to dig up in the fall!



DRY BEANS (POLE BEANS):
Calypso and Scarlet Runner – Calypso is a brilliant contrast of black and white when mature; it’s also called the yin-and-yang bean, which is a good lesson in balance for kids. Scarlet Runner is a beautiful red bean (inside the green bean) produced by a scarlet red flower that attracts hummingbirds to the garden.
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