For those of us who can visualize the end result - a plate of juicy, perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes, for instance - it's easier to get excited about all the groundwork that goes into making one's garden great. For the little ones, though, who don't have the ability to see the end goal, it takes some guidance to get them in the gardening spirit (and keep them there!). Here's how to get the whole family in on the activity.
Prep all year round with talk about seeds and plants.
Use time together as a family to go over the life cycle of plants. When you see a farm or a great garden, even if it's winter, talk about what is grown there, how farmers survive, and how many things can be grown in a garden. Start saving seeds from the fruits and vegetables you eat over the course of a winter; most can be used for spring-time planting if you simply dry and store them in an air-tight container. Getting your kids to help collect and preserve seeds gives them an end user's idea of what those seeds will produce.
Let the kids see you get excited about gardening.
If gardening is a chore for you, then it's going to be difficult to convince your kids otherwise. Let them see you surfing the Internet in search of gardening articles, looking over seed catalogs, and strolling through the nursery to plan your own garden. Involve them in your plans according to their own age and ability, as well.
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Get them age-appropriate tools.
For younger children, handling adult-sized garden tools is awkward and difficult. Invest in some well-made, wooden-handled garden tools that come in the right size. A hoe, a rake and a shovel are great to have, as well as a hand trowel and a hand rake. Kids will have fun playing with these in mud, sand, gravel, whatever, and when gardening time comes, they'll be ready to use them to help prepare the garden.
Put them in charge of something.
You'll have to gauge their age and ability, as well as your own patience in overseeing a new gardener, but giving your kids responsibility for their own area of the garden will go a long way toward helping them get excited about it. You can allot a "garden plot" that they get to seed and tend themselves; or you can assign them to a particular row or set of plants. Help them choose easy-to-grow plants, so they won't be disappointed, and, of course, walk them through the planting and tending process with lots of encouragement.
Make gardening a regular family habit.
Depending on your garden and your family's schedule, you may or may not be able to put daily time into the garden. But whatever time you do put in, make it as regular and habitual as you can, and include your kids in it. Maybe you'll have a regular watering time every other day, and a once a week weeding fest. Of course, harvesting will happen as produce ripens and you can make a big deal out of that.
Celebrate the great results!
When the first tomato ripens, make it a celebration. Your own fresh produce should be the star of the meal, and be sure to give lots of praise to the gardeners who have done the work to help bring that plant from seed to produce. Brag on their diligence and skill to anybody who will listen (especially if the kids are in earshot) and show off the great results of their (and your) hard work.
Image: Ernst Vikne