Gardening with Little Helpers

March 29th, 2010 by Dionna | 10 Comments
Posted in Adults, Children, Compassionate Advocacy, Eclectic Learning, Ecological Responsibility and Love of Nature, Environmentalism, Guest Posts, Homey Goodness, Infants, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, natural parenting, Preschoolers, Strive for Balance, Toddlers

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Today I would like to welcome Amber, who has written a guest post on gardening with children. She is a self-described hippie mama, a wannabe writer and a lover of chocolate. You can normally find Amber over at, where she chronicles her suburban adventures and not-so-deep thoughts. Today, I have a guest post there. So, once you’re done reading Amber’s thoughts on gardening with children head on over to see what I have to say on the same subject.

I am the mother of two fabulous little children. My daughter, Hannah, is 5 and my son, Jacob, is 19 months. They are the light of my life and the apple of my eye. They make my heart sing, and all that jazz. In spite of all the life-lighting and heart-singing, though, my kids aren’t always what one would call helpful.

For example, I have a garden. In my garden I grow berries and herbs and vegetables. I garden for some very specific reasons. One is that I am working to reduce my food miles and eat local. Another is that gardening is a very frugal choice, allowing me to cut my food budget. I also think that fresh garden produce is a whole lot better tasting. But one of the biggest reasons that I garden, if not the biggest, is to teach my kids about where their food comes from and cultivate in them an appreciation for the difference between a hothouse tomato in January and a garden fresh tomato in August.

Jacob contemplates the seed starts
My son Jacob contemplates the seeds I’ve started

Given how very altruistic my motives are, you would think my kids would be super-keen to do their part. After all, I am providing them with an opportunity to learn and experience and sample and taste. Sadly, my children have not stepped up. In fact, they actively thwart my efforts. My toddler digs up seeds I’ve just planted, or pulls up wee sprouts when they poke through the dirt. My preschooler picks green berries and then discards them, no matter how many times I ask her not to. Together, they stomp through my garden beds and generally disturb my plants. My kids aren’t really helpful until harvest time comes – they’re like The Little Red Hen that way.

Hannah and her seed packets
My daughter Hannah, at age 4, ‘helping’ with planting

This is all pretty normal kid behaviour. Children live to explore and experiment, not to follow instructions well. If you plan for this, and work around it, you can garden with your children and not experience too much frustration. At least not constantly. I have achieved modest success by recognizing that sometimes, I just need to work by myself while my husband takes our little darlings to the park. Other times, I give my kids very small and specific tasks, like watering with a child-sized watering can. And other times I set up something for my kids to do while I work, like playing in the sprinkler.

4-year-old Hannah eating raspberries
Hannah eating raspberries

Mostly, though, I just know my children’s temperaments. As a toddler Hannah put everything in her mouth and I couldn’t work outdoors with her while she was in that stage. You can only spend so much time fishing foreign objects out of your kid’s mouth, you know? Jacob is better outside, but he’s a menace to the seeds I start indoors, and he’s very good at climbing. I have to work overtime to keep him away from my squash sprouts. Hannah, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared less about seedlings. Knowing what works and doesn’t work for my kids helps me avoid problem situations. Mostly.

I don’t know if working in the garden and eating home-grown produce will change the way my children view food. I hope it will, but only time will tell. What I do know for sure, though, is that my kids will know what a strawberry plant looks like, and what a fresh-picked carrot tastes like, and that peas grow in pods. The rest is up to them. That’s pretty much like everything in parenting, isn’t it? You model, you teach, and then you hope for the best.

What about you? Do you garden with your children, or have you given up in frustration? What challenges have you encountered and overcome as you dig in the dirt with little people?

10 Responses to:
"Gardening with Little Helpers"

  1. Dionna   CodeNameMama

    Ah the joys of gardening with kids. This year’s garden will be my third – my third ever, and my third with Kieran. It has been a challenge each year to figure out what to do with him while I work the dirt. Last year was the easiest – he was toddling around, but he didn’t particularly care to get dirty so he mostly stayed away (and cried for me to pick him up).
    This year we have barely gotten a start on our garden, but the little time we have spent out there was easier. He was more interested in the dirt and able to play for longer periods in tandem with me (rather than *with* me).
    I’m excited to see his reaction to everything growing this year. Last year we went out every morning and yelled together “grow! grow!”, but I’m not sure how much he really understood.

    Thanks for the guest post, Amber!

  2. Melodie   bfmom

    When I first opened my reader this morning I was really confused and thought something very strange had happened having recognized Hannah and Jacob right away but knowing those kidlets generally don’t belong here. Aha! Guest post!
    I think the fact that you garden with your kids at a young age will influence how they eat and what they think about food when they get older. I think gardening can only be good for kids. Kudos to all of you for doing it!

  3. Marilyn @ A Lot of Loves   ALotofLoves

    My 3-year-old son helped plant all of the seeds I started a few weeks ago. “Help” meaning he threw dirt around the laundry room and then took off with my seed packets. Once the seeds sprouted though he was interested to see what they looked like. My 17-mth-old is quite fascinated with the plants we have in the ground now. She likes to take my hand and make my hand touch the seedlings. I have high hopes for her green thumb.

  4. Mammapie   Rainbowsouffle

    Hear hear! My tot is almost 20 mo old and I’ve just begun our first container garden that she can actively participate with. I splurged and bought plants instead of seedlings for strawberries and give her her own watering can when we’re outside so her hands are busy and she doesn’t mess with the plants. It also helps that we don’t have a dog to dig in the plants and that she’s more interested in digging in her own plot of dirt than pulling up plants.

  5. Darcel   mahoganywaymama

    I think it’s great that you garden with your kids. We keep saying we want to start a garden, but we have no idea where to start. We’re renting, but I don’t think that should make a big difference.
    Your kids are too cute!

  6. Natalie   babywearingitup

    This will be our third year trying to garden, and our first spring without a newborn. I’m excited to see what that does, but that also means gardening with a two and one year old… I’m very curious to see what that will look like! :)

  7. Amber   AmberStrocel

    Thanks everyone for all of your comments. And big thanks to Dionna for publishing my guest post. This blog swap thing was kind of fun.

    Happy growing!

  8. Yum, homegrown veggies!

    Amber – remember, you’re a writer, not a wannabe writer. :)

  9. Amber   AmberStrocel

    Thanks for the reminder, Lady M. You’re right, time to drop the ‘wannabe’ status.

    (And now I want to hum some Spice Girls.)

  10. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    I really enjoyed this one, particularly since I’m gardening with three little helpers this year. One is mine, and two are on loan. They were very enthusiastic about planting seeds. Let’s say that we didn’t exactly follow the proper spacing procedures. So far, the seeds don’t seem to care, though!

    I definitely do a mix of gardening-with and gardening-without so I can keep my cool and enjoy the times I’m part of the gardening circus.

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