Why I Built This Kit:
If my son has taught me anything, it’s that children and dirt – or better yet, mud – naturally attract one another. Gardening is the perfect activity to encourage that attraction in a fun, educational, and meaningful way. Through gardening, children have bountiful opportunities to learn about science, nature, weather, patience, planning, responsibility, food, cooking, community, colors, textures, design, other cultures, and imagination. Some of my fondest memories involve gardens, farms, and watching how things grow: planting seeds and eagerly checking on their growth all summer long, lying among fragrant flowers with bees buzzing all around on a lavender farm in southern France, seeing my fingers turn blue from touching an indigo plant while hiking along the terraced gardens in the mountains of Sapa, Vietnam.
Since I moved to Maine with my family about a year ago, we are starting fresh in our own garden this year. There are some (overgrown) flowering shrubs and greens around the yard, but no vegetable garden, which I really want to have for myself and my son. Because I still do not feel that we know our yard really well, though, our plan is to build a single raised bed this year. And I always like to have some potted herbs, too! Personally, I find starting small makes projects more manageable and myself more likely to see them through to completion! We can always build more raised beds or dig up the whole yard in the future. I am excited for my son to engage in an activity that can continue to be a part of his life into adulthood, an activity that has been a part of human history for centuries. I hope you and your little ones are excited, too. Oh the stories we will all have to tell!
Spark Their Interest
Talk to your kids about gardening, why you are going to explore it as a “theme,” and why it’s going to be fun! If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a little sample “script.” Edit as desired!
Do you like dirt? Do you like food? Do you like flowers or bugs or experiments or being in charge of something? If your answer is yes to any of those questions, then gardening is for you! Human beings have grown their own food, medicines, and decorations for hundreds, even thousands of years. Gardens come in all shapes and sizes. They can be indoors or outdoors, in cities or in the countryside, on mountains or in dry desert landscapes. Gardens can be neat and orderly or messy and wild. Gardens have long inspired daydreams and stories and songs. Here are some to get you started. Now let’s dig in!
- Flower Garden by Eve Bunting, illus. by Kathryn Hewitt
- A little girl buys flowers at the supermarket to replant in a window box for her mother’s birthday surprise. An inner-city apartment setting makes this a perfect story to show that gardens can happen anywhere!
- Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole
- A cumulative story adapted from “The House that Jack Built” that details a young boy’s exploits in his garden. A great option with a boy protagonist.
- The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illus. by David Small
- A story told through a young girl’s letters home about her adjustment to life in the city with a grumpy uncle during the Great Depression. She plants the seeds from her grandmother, her gardening partner, and brings color and brightness to a dim situation. Another outstanding choice to show that gardens and cities do go together!
- Plant a Little Seed by Bonnie Christensen
- A young girl narrates the story of her time working in a community garden with her friend, a boy. The story is told in verse, illustrated with beautiful woodcuts, and culminates in a feast of all they have grown and harvested. A true celebration of gardens, friendship, and food.
- A Harvest of Color by Melanie Eclare
- A group of neighborhood children create a garden together in this story, which is a scrapbook style book with fabulous photographs. Good inspiration for both gardening and scrapbooking or journaling!
- Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
- As suggested by the title, this story focuses on all the colors as mother and child plant a flower garden. The actual flower species are labeled, too.
- Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals, illus. by Ashley Wolff
- A rhyming, alphabetical recipe for how to make compost, accompanied by additional information and tips. Lots of energy in this title and a marvelous way to get kids interested in composting!
- Up We Grow! A Year in the Life of a Small, Local Farm by Brian Harris, illus. by Deborah Hodge
- A photo-essay that brings readers into the world of a cooperative farm over four seasons. Farms introduce gardening on a whole other scale!
- City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan
- A young girl feels down when an abandoned building in her neighborhood is torn down by the city, but she changes her perspective and that of other residents by starting a community garden in the vacant lot! A story with community at its heart and some practical tips as to how to start your own community garden.
- My Garden by Kevin Henkes
- A child imagines a very different kind of garden. One where vegetables and chocolate rabbits and seashells all grow side by side!
- And The Good Brown Earth by Kathy Henderson
- A young boy and his grandmother have their own methods of gardening. A delightful story that plays with language and repetition, and shows there is no “right” way to garden.
- Sky Sweeper by Phillis Gershator, illus. by Holly Meade
- A young boy takes a job as Flower Keeper at the monks’ temple and keeps the job his whole life, and beyond. A poetic story and original fable that introduces Japanese and Zen gardens.
- Two Old Potatoes and Me by John Coy, illus. by Carolyn Fisher
- A girl and her father attempt to grow new potatoes from their old yucky-looking potatoes. A story about hope that also subtly deals with divorce and change.
- Zinnia’s Flower Garden by Monica Wellington
- Bold, cheerful illustrations accompany this story that explains each step of planting a flower garden. Zinnia also keeps a gardening journal, which might be inspire your own little writer!
- Garden Wigglers by Nancy Loewen, illus. by Rick Peterson
- All about worms. Because every good gardener should know the value of a worm!
- Roo’s Fabulous Edible Garden
- While the animation of the characters (who don’t appear very often anyway) in this app is less than stellar, the actual content of the app is great – engaging educational videos accompany each step of creating a garden, followed by a little “game” to complete that action on the app. It is also spaced over time like a real garden—you only get to complete so many steps on Day 1. Then you need to wait until the next day to see your garden’s progress and care for it again. Read more about the app, put out by the University of North Carolina – UNC-TV and the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, here.
- Plants HD
- This app teaches kids all about the life cycle of a plant through an informational story, fun facts, photographs, a matching game, and quizzes.
- Jack and the Beanstalk
- An outstanding adaptation of the fairytale, and a fun reminder for your little ones about the magic hidden inside a simple seed.
Watch, Listen, Learn
- The Garden Song performed by Pete Seeger
- A favorite song in our household. If you think your children might not take to watching an old video of Pete Seeger in concert, try this version sung by John Denver on the Muppet Show!
- In My Garden Song
- An upbeat garden song accompanied by photographs of all kinds of kids working in all kinds of gardens.
- Organic Gardening Kids in the Garden
- This is one family’s compilation of photographs and videos from a single year in their organic garden, taking field trips to local farms, and doing gardening related projects. I would recommend exploring Misilla’s entire Learn To Grow YouTube channel, which is all about gardening and features some fun DIY projects, as well as her Facebook page by the same name!
- Steps for Planting Seeds and Seedlings
- Not sure where to begin? Check out this engaging instructional video put out by the American Heart Association and geared towards kids.
- Plant A Garden!
- Your garden can be outdoors or indoors, potted, in the earth, or in a raised bed. You don’t have to have a big yard, or any yard for that matter, to have a garden. Potted herbs are perfect indoor options, fragrant, and will add some spice to your cooking, too. Terraces offer plenty of space for a potted garden of vegetables or flowers. Even if you have a yard, it might be a good idea to start small if this is your first time gardening. Many towns and cities have community garden plots available, as well!
- Decide whether you want an edible garden, decorative, or both. If planning for an outdoor garden, what type of climate do you live in?
- You might want to track the light outside or in your home for a couple of days to see how much sun vs. shade you get and at what hours. I have done this just by jotting down the time (hooray for practicing telling time!) and a brief description, but you could make a chart, too. The four main categories of sunlight you’ll see when picking seeds or plants are: Full sun (6+ hours of direct sunlight), partial sun (4-5 hours of direct sunlight), partial shade (2-4 hours of direct sunlight) and shade (less than 1 hour of direct sunlight).
- All this planning will help you decide on what types of seeds or plants to bring home and plant! I’m always a big fan of asking the advice of staff at the local nurseries in my area, too.
- Involve your kiddo or kiddos in the entire process and give them specific tasks and responsibilities for maintaining the garden. One reason I love gardening is because there is something for everyone of every age to do – watering, weeding, harvesting, and pruning are all great options. Maybe babies can’t quite help yet, but they can still play in the dirt! If you make an indoor garden, I’d recommend putting a plastic or metal tray (a dishwashing tub or old jelly roll pan can work well) underneath your pots so that your mind is at ease if dirt and/or water spill over a bit.
- Words and Scraps
- Keep a scrapbook or journal that everyone can add to! I am a big fan of journaling (you can read more about my love for it here), and I want to start keeping a garden journal this year. While you can keep one every season, I think I would like to have one that stretches over time and years. I have one journal I kept with my father – we both contributed for a year or two with pictures, words, etc. That is my inspiration for a family gardening journal. Try this project your own way, and see how your garden and your kids grow!
- Imagination in Action
- I have always had a thing for miniatures—dollhouses, The Borrowers, you name it. So I love the idea of crafting a fairy house for your garden out of natural materials such as stones, sticks, pinecones, acorns, flowers, etc. And what better inhabitant to fill a fairy house than a story?! Encourage your child to invent stories about the fairy or fairies that dwell in the house and the adventures they have in the garden and beyond. If you decide to keep a gardening journal or scrapbook, make sure you record some of the stories!
- Community Adventure
- Our family purchases a CSA (or Community Shared Agriculture) share every summer, which means that we receive weekly fresh produce from a local farm from June through October. Other than the delicious vegetables, greens, and fruits we enjoy, one of my favorite aspects of joining a CSA is visiting the farm, often for an event such as picking flowers, making pesto, picking tomatoes, feasting at a corn boil, picking pumpkins, etc. There’s a lot of picking involved! Visit a working farm near you. Your child will learn about your community, the hard work that goes into growing food for a living, and crops. If you are not sure what farm to visit, try a farmers’ market as a starting point and ask vendors if they ever have public events or allow visitors. Many do!
- Garden in a Jar
- I love this idea for a DIY moss terrarium. Supplies you’ll need are pebbles, activated charcoal, potting soil, moss or other small plants, a glass container like a cleaned out pasta sauce jar, a bamboo skewer and one kid. Mix them all together (well, maybe check out the instructions on the blog), and you’ll end up with your own little ecosystem to observe, and a pretty cool decoration to boot.
- All About Seeds
- Soak some dry pinto beans in warm water overnight. The next day, explain to your child that the beans are a kind of seed and the warm water has imitated warm, moist soil. Ask them to open the seeds. Then tell them to look at the seeds under a magnifying glass and ask them what they see. They should see a tiny plant inside. Can they see three layers of the bean? There is the new plant, food for the new plant, and a seed coat. Even if they do not know for sure which part is which, can they guess? If a plant needs to eat the food to grow, then where would the food be? When a person wears a coat, what does it do for that person? So where would the seed coat be? Afterwards have them draw or paint a picture of their dissected seed and label the parts!
- Zen Garden
- Make your own miniature Zen garden, especially if Sky Sweeper is one of the books you have chosen to read! All you need is a container such as a baking dish, sand, some eye-appealing rocks (the finding of which can be a whole other activity!), and a toothpick, fork, and/or spoon. Or learn how to make your own zen garden tools using natural materials and a glue gun here. Put the sand in your dish (don’t fill it all the way to the top) by pouring or scooping with a spoon. Tell your kiddo to use the utensils or tools to make designs of their choosing in the sand and place their rocks where they think they will feel just right. Redesign, play, and take time to reflect as inspired!
- Green Thumbs
- Use a green stamp pad and show your kiddo how to stamp their thumb, transferring their thumb from ink to paper. With the help of a pen or colored pencils, they can turn their thumbprints into anything they want – a garden, a caterpillar, trees, people, a football, a boat, something else entirely. The point is just to have fun, be creative, and put their newly acquired green thumbs to good use!
Greetings from central Maine! Things you should know about me: I am the mother of an inquisitive, active toddler who keeps me on my toes. I work in a small, independent children’s bookstore where I get to help kids, teens, and their grown-ups find books that will keep them up reading all night long. Just kidding about that last part, they go to sleep eventually, I swear. Well, I don’t swear, but I assume. But matching people and books? My favorite way to play matchmaker! Before moving to Maine I worked as a historical researcher for American Girl, where I learned about everything from steamboats to wars to parrots. I am also a children’s book author myself, with my first picture book due to come out in 2015! When I’m not knee-deep in books or blocks or a sandbox, I bake a lot, avoid cleaning at all costs, and try to spend as much time outdoors as possible. For the record, I would love to be a neat and orderly person, it just doesn’t seem to be my style. I’m working on it.