Dress your kids in a hat and gardening clothes (meaning anything you don't mind getting dirty) when it's time to plant, weed, water or pick, and don't forget to use sunscreen. Take your time with the kids and remember that a young child's attention span may wane sooner than yours.
Kids love digging in the dirt and will benefit from having their own gardening gloves and equipment. "Child-sized tools are great if you can find quality tools," says Taylor. "Blunt-nosed Fiskars scissors work great for cutting flowers in the garden, and children can arrange their flowers with floral tape." She also suggests giving kids their own baskets for harvesting snacks or holding hand-picked bouquets.
Creepers and Crawlers
Looking for the wildlife in a garden is a great part of the fun for little ones. "Kids love insects and worms," says Taylor. "Gardening introduces them to some of the living creatures in the soil, under rocks and on plants. It's all a part of opening the world up to them." At Seattle Tilth, Taylor lets the kids build bug houses. "We let them be creative. They build beds for the bugs, hot tubs, waterslides—things they think the bugs would enjoy." Children are natural nurtures, she says, and understand the importance of caring for plants and other things in the garden.
Play it Safe
Both Taylor and Gifford emphasize the importance of organic gardening with children. "Parents should be concerned about sprays or chemicals [in the garden]," says Gifford. And not just when the children are physically in the garden. "Touching leaves that have been treated with chemicals and putting their hands into their mouths is dangerous; the residue can be damaging in smaller doses than it would be for adults because children's bodies are smaller."
It's also good to keep any sharp, pointed tools from small children. "Set the rules about tool safety up front; don't swing any tools around, anything sharp should be pointed down," says Gifford. At Seattle Tilth, gardeners tell kids they are not allowed to bring tools up any higher than their belly buttons.
Gardening can be a wonderful family project filled with adventure, experimentation, and learning; and children love to learn when they're having fun. Not only will your kids enjoy the satisfaction of nurturing life, but they'll love spending time with you.