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gardening with kids

Photograph by Caroline Voagen Nelson, courtesy of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Nothing says spring like getting outside and digging 
in the dirt! Make gardening a fun and rewarding experience for your kids with these tips from Greta Pemberton, manager of children and youth programs at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in Brooklyn, New York.

1. Test Your Soil
Especially if you live in a more urban environment, Pemberton recommends having your soil professionally tested for lead and heavy metals to make sure it’s safe for your kids and also good for the plants. (Many local colleges have labs that can do this testing for a small fee.) If it doesn’t check out, container gardens or raised beds may be your best option.

2. Plant Small, Abundant Varieties
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, try to choose options that offer many opportunities for harvesting. “Delayed gratification is really important,” says Pemberton, “but frequent tastings are a lot more fun!

3. Size Down
Make sure your planting beds are no more than twice as wide as your smallest child’s arms are long, so everyone can reach to the center of the bed. “Otherwise you’ll end up with kids stomping through the bed to get to the good stuff, which compacts the soil,” says Pemberton. Kid-size rakes and shovels can also make tasks easier.

4. Stay Positive
There are a lot of small failures in a garden: Things will die, you’re going to forget to water sometimes, plants will get eaten by animals, and so on. It’s important to let your child know from the beginning that everything is an experiment and that if something doesn’t work you’ll just try again. “That’s really where the learning happens,” says Pemberton—“when things go a little wrong and you have to figure it out.”

5. Chart Your Progress
Whether it’s simply taking photos of your plants every week or charting flower dimensions in a science journal, keep track of what’s going on in your garden. “You and your kids will be amazed at how much your plants grow and change in even a short time,” says Pemberton.

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