Why I Created 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!
Trowel and Error by Sharon Lovejoy
This is a gardening manual of sorts designed for gardeners of any age and level. It has awesome tips and activities in an appealing illustrative format. Kids will especially love her advice to “bend the rules!”
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illus. by Eric-Shabazz Larkin
A picture book biography about a basketball star turned urban farmer in Milwaukee, who helps transform a portion of the city and empowers people by teaching them to grow their own food. A story that shows where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
A boy describes his grandfather and his life, a gardener who has been many other things as well. Now his spectacular topiary garden keeps those memories, too. A story about love, life, grandparents, imagination, and storytelling.
Watermelon Wishes by Lisa Moser, illus. by Stacey Schuett
When a young boy and his grandfather plant watermelon seeds, the boy hopes for a wishing watermelon, and he won’t tell his grandfather what he would wish for. A story that celebrates grandparents, family, gardening, summertime, and wishes come true.
The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland, illus. by Tatsuro Kiuchi
A little girl tells the story of her grandmother who keeps a special lotus seed over time and through major events, including emigrating from Vietnam to America. When one of her grandchildren plants the seed, a new tradition takes root. A beautiful story about change, war, plantings, and family.
Weslandia by Paul Felischman, illus. by Kevin Hawkes
A young boy who has had some trouble making friends at school changes his life and world when he creates his own civilization based on a garden and staple crop that provides everything he needs. Wildly imaginative and good inspiration for kids to think about what they can do with crops beyond just eating them!
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Share a classic with your child: When orphaned Mary Lennox, lonely and sad, comes to live at her uncle's great house on the Yorkshire moors, she finds it full of secrets. At night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors. Outside, she meets Dickon, a magical boy who can charm and talk to animals. Then, one day, with the help of a friendly robin, Mary discovers the most mysterious wonder of all--a secret garden, walled and locked, which has been completely forgotten for years and years. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life? (WorldCat)
In the Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby, illus. by Nicole Tadgell
This book tells the story of a young girl living in rural Alabama in the early 20th century, and the lessons that Dr. George Washington Carver teaches her and her classmates about gardening. A wonderful picture book that both delves into history and reminds kids to appreciate and respect nature and the world around them.
Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe, illus. by Jos. A Smith
A beautifully illustrated picture book biography of Gregor Mendel, and his experiments with peas that helped form his theories of genetics. A great choice to mix gardens, stories, and science!
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 great option to show that gardens and cities do go together!
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.
- 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.
- GardenMinder by Gardener’s Supply Company
- An app for gardeners of any age, this has fabulous features such as a glossary of fruits and vegetables (complete with photographs) and tips on the best ways to grow them, a wide variety of garden plots to choose from or the ability to create one from scratch, a garden journal, and more!
- 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.
- Plants by Tinybot
- Through self-directed play and lots of opportunities for discovery, this app teaches kids all about a variety of biomes and ecosystems, and the interconnected nature of plants, animals, and weather. It also has some fabulous parent interactivity features such as the ability to answer your child’s questions.
Watch, Listen, Learn
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!
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 a putting 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!
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.
One of the fascinating things about gardens is how they can be found everywhere in the world, although what they contain and the methods for growing certain crops can vary wildly. Visit your local library and learn about crops grown in two or three other countries. Not sure where to begin? Use these lists of crops, organized by world region, and associated maps as a starting point! Where is sugarcane grown? How about oranges? Peanuts? Rice? Why do some crops grow better in some parts of the world than others? Pick one of the regions to explore further, through stories and pictures.
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!
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.