Weekends are a special time for me and my family and since our two boys have a bunch of other farm kids where we live, I have to think up of great weekend activities to keep them occupied. And what better way to get farm kids busy than to get their hands dirty and do backyard gardening. So this weekend, I thought of some easy gardening activities for kids.
Easy Gardening Activities
I never thought I’d have a soft spot in my heart for children until one came through me. Now that I have two of them, a profound love for their innocent, forgiving nature and endless possibilities grew in my heart and I felt it my calling to nurture and support their development.
“Children should not be long confined within doors, nor should they be required to apply themselves closely to study until a good foundation has been laid for physical development. For the first eight or ten years of a child’s life the field or garden is the best schoolroom, the mother the best teacher, nature the best lesson book.”
-Ellen G. White
Ms. Ellen G. White’s take on child guidance resonates my personal values as a mom (perhaps because I also hated to be confined indoors as a child; I preferred to read my books in the garden than in my bedroom). Children have a natural desire for learning but looking closely at my own two boys, aged 12 and 6, I noticed that school-age kids are not very happy about sitting inside classrooms for long hours.
Even inside the house, they long to get those limbs moving and their heart pumping by converting the living room into a war zone and play pillow fight. This gave me an idea to make weekends fun for them; a rejuvenating break from long successive days at school.
And so to give them a chance to get those muscles moving, heart racing and brain neurons working, I allowed them to join me in our little backyard garden doing child-friendly and easy gardening activities for their tiny hands.
No. 1 Preparing the soil
My husband and I have been very blessed to have been given stewardship over a considerable piece of land and in the tiny white house where we live, we have plenty of outdoor space to play actual Farmville with. We do have a couple of farmhand, but my husband preferred to try his hands on the plow and seeing how easy it was, he allowed our own boys to experience it. Being digital natives who first loved farming in Zynga’s Farmville, they seemed to love getting their hands on an actual plow with an actual cow pulling it!
It took days to get the soil ready for planting and even then, we had to get our hands dirty — and our faces dripping with sweat — to make raised beds for our vegetables. For some it might look tedious, even for us adults, but for kids, everything looks like fun! Especially when you have those cute gardening tools that look like toys to them. And so I gave them an opportunity to help.
School-age kids (around 5 to 12 years old) naturally like to learn to do things on their own. In Erik Erikson’s social stages of development, this is the stage where kids take pride in seeing something take shape in their own hands. Skills development is very important in this stage of their life and being recognized for their accomplishments can do wonders to their self-esteem.
No. 2 Sowing Seeds
Even easier than making raised garden beds is sowing the seeds. Every weekend, between two to six other farm kids come to our house to play with our children and by play, I mean they start getting busy from sunrise to sunset and beyond. Sometimes, when it rains, moms with umbrellas show up in our doorstep to fetch their kids.
They have bicycles and more trails than they can cover, they have trees to climb, toys to play with, lakes if they want to go fishing, and rivers to go splashing in, but when they see me go the garden with packets of seeds in hand, their eyes light up and follow me like little ducklings behind their mom.
Being in the tropics, we can grow a variety of vegetables all year round, but as beginning gardeners we try to stick to a few varieties and preferably those we actually eat everyday. Right now we have three types of beans, bitter gourd, green onions, okra, eggplant, water melon, daikon radishes, sweet potatoes and some herbs, but so far the easiest — and fastest — to grow among all these are the radishes. So if you are looking into growing an easy vegetable garden for kids, try starting with daikon radishes.
For educational purposes, I gave the kids radish kids so they don’t have to wait for months to reap the fruits of their labor. Following the instructions on the pack, I had them determine for themselves how far apart and how deep they should sow the seeds. Older kids take this gardening activity more seriously than their younger counterparts and I thought this was a perfect opportunity for us adults to teach them to read labels and follow instructions.
No. 3. Vegetable Picking
A little more than a month, these kids got to pluck their radishes out from the garden bed and what fun they had! I had to take a photo to capture the memory. They have been eyeing those root crops for days since the white fleshy began to emerge from the soil. You can only imagine the excitement they felt when I said, “Yes, you can now harvest your radishes.”
Sadly, our two boys are not very big fans of radishes, despite the number of times I told them about its benefits. It’s a good thing the other farm kids are vegetable eaters and they gladly volunteered to help me prepare radish salad for dinner that night.
See, Erikson was right. Children do enjoy learning new skills at this stage of their development and so it didn’t give me a hard time getting those kids to hold a vegetable peeler and make round, paper-thin slices of radish for salad (by the way, before giving the vegetable peeler to them, I had to determine which child was old enough to use this kitchen tool. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt making a salad and they were all taught how to safely handle kitchen tools). One of the boys offered to make the dressing and that made my heart skip a beat. Don’t you just like it when kids show interest in learning new things? I had them sample a pre-made radish salad the day before, so he didn’t have a hard time concocting his formula.
We had a lovely supper together; my family, the farm kids and the farm hand that has become our six-year-old’s best farm buddy ever.
No. 4 Watering the plants
I don’t know but kids seem to naturally love the elements — water, fire, earth — and I love allowing them to play and learn with what they love, with the exception of things that can potentially harm them, of course.
Giving them tiny buckets than can hold water they can comfortably carry, I taught them how to gently water plants without damaging them. When done with care not to exhaust children with too heavy buckets, watering the plants can be a fun and easy gardening activity for kids of all ages, apart from it being a great physical exercise for them. The secret I guess lies in not making it feel like a chore for them but an easy family contribution that make them feel valued and recognized for.
Growing an Easy Vegetable Garden for Kids
Without a doubt, gardening provides a number of teaching-learning opportunities for both adults and children, and as I mentioned earlier, based on my personal experience as a newbie in backyard gardening, daikon radishes are the fastest and easiest to grow. If you intend to start your vegetable garden for kids, I suggest you start with radishes. Not only will you be providing your kids a fun opportunity to learn agriculture; this can also be a chance for you to get them to learn and love reading. Encourage them to read the labels and instructions on the seed packets or get a how-to on vegetable gardening printed and have them follow the instructions step by step. Studies show that children who learn how to read at an early age have an edge over their peers who learn to read later so wouldn’t this be a perfect chance for you to get your kids to learn reading early?