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!
Rainbow Stew by Cathryn Falwell
A rainy day does not stop these children from enjoying their grandfather’s garden!
In The Garden by Leslie Bockol, illus. by Jillian Phillips
In the Garden, one of the Green Start series, presents a diverse cast of children tending, picking, and eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. Bright colors, repetitive text, and cute children in this board book will quickly become favorites. A parent page at the end provides some gardening and organic cooking ideas for parent and child to enjoy together. (Zoobean)
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, illus. by Crockett Johnson
A little boy’s unwavering faith in the carrot seed he has planted is rewarded when a big carrot grows. A perfect book to talk about the patience and care that a garden needs.
Jo MacDonald Had a Garden by Mary Quattlebaum, illus. by Laura J. Bryant
An adaptation of the beloved song, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” Great for a sing-a-long!
In the Garden with Van Gogh by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober
Explore some of Van Gogh’s masterpieces in this lovely board book with rhyming verse that explores life in and around gardens.
Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert
Get your child thinking about all the yummy things that grow in gardens while they practice their ABCs with this colorful board book.
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.
How a Seed Grows by Helene J. Jordan, illus. by Loretta Krupinski
A simple introduction to the science of seeds with beautiful, bright watercolor illustrations.
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!
Over in the Garden by Jennifer Ward, illus. by Kenneth J. Spengler
A playful story written to the tune of the song “Over in the Meadow,” this book introduces kids to the many animals that live in a garden with music and bold illustrations.
Up, Down, and Around by Katherine Ayres, illus. by Nadine Bernard Westcott
A perfect introduction to gardens as active spaces for plants, animals, and children, and a way to practice prepositions!
Miffy’s GardenListen to a story about a little bunny’s garden and help her care for it!
PopOut! The Tale of Peter RabbitA charming and engaging adaptation of the beloved story by Beatrix Potter, little ones will have fun with the pop-up-like features of this app as they listen to the wonderful narration.
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!
All About Seeds
Create a seed sort! Toddlers love to get their hands on things, and having a seed sort is a fun tactile activity that will give your child an early science lesson on seeds. Give your child an assortment of seeds. Varieties such as pumpkin, sunflower, various beans, sweet corn, and lentils make great options. Include multiples of each type of seed and mix them all together in a bowl. Have your child sort through them, placing the matching types of seeds in a single spot such as the empty cube of an ice cube tray, or on a gridded piece of paper that they can glue the seeds onto. Talk about the types of seeds, and encourage them to count. They’ll get to work on their math and fine motor skills in this activity, as well!
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 Tea Party
Make sun tea! Have your child help you pick some long stems of mint, about a handful. Then rinse them, and put them in a two-quart pitcher. Cover the mint with cold water and leave in a sunny outdoors spot to steep for at least 12 hours. In the meantime, make some special ice cubes for your garden drinks. First boil some water (so the ice cubes stay clear) and let it cool. Pick some mint flowers with your child. Pour the cooled water into the ice cube tray and have your kiddo put one flower in each cube water. Then freeze. When the sun tea has finished steeping, bring it inside to strain and chill in the refrigerator. Serve with the special cubes! (Find this and other fantastic kid-friendly garden activities in Sharon Lovejoy’s Roots, Shoots, Buckets, & Boots: Gardening Together with Children, one of my favorite sources of inspiration for our garden!)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Friends of mine recently planted a garden in the shape and colors of Eric Carle’s classic character, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I thought this was such a fun way to connect gardening and story! Use a few handfuls of flour to outline the shape you want to plant your garden in and divide the sections into different colors. Then plant a flower garden in greens, reds, and make the face out of yellows and blues! Read the book with your child and see how your caterpillar turns out. You could use this idea to make other favorite storybook characters, as well!
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.