Kids and plants – two words that go wonderfully together! The benefits of helping grow your child’s interest in plants are numerous.
In fact, studies show that teaching children about gardening and plants can have lifelong benefits including developing positive social and interpersonal skills, healthier eating habits, and improving their life skills.
However, the benefits don’t end there.
When children interact with plants, they become involved with nature. They develop new skills and learn about responsibility. If they’re gardening, they’re getting fresh air and sunshine and exercise. And just playing in the dirt comes with its own set of perks.
According to PBS for parents, “studies show that when children have contact with soil during activities like digging and planting, they have improved moods, better learning experiences and decreased anxiety.” (Authors – Nimali Fernando, MD, MPH and Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP)
Growing Your Child’s Green Thumb
You don’t need a large backyard, or a yard at all, to see the benefits of kids and plants interacting. If your space is limited, think of a small raised bed or a few pots for a patio or balcony.
And who says kids have to be restricted to learning only about gardening outdoors? Bring the teaching inside with a houseplant or two.
However, no matter which direction you head, there are a few steps you can take to help your child learn to love plants.
1. Make It Theirs
Let children take ownership of their plant project. They can pick their own garden spot or planter. If working with a houseplant, have them choose where inside the house the plant will be located. You can guide them, but it’s important you don’t take over control. And believe me, being a control freak myself, I know how difficult this can be!
2. Choosing the Right Plant
Allowing children to choose their own plants helps them take ownership of their plants.
And that’s a good thing. However, you also want them to make good choices.
Plant choice is important, because the greater the odds of your child’s success, the more likely he or she will want to grow a green thumb. Given that, you may need to help a little with this step.
For vegetable gardens, check the seed package for germination and harvest times. As you likely know, kids can be impatient. So pick seeds with shorter times.
Some good choices are lettuce, radishes, carrots, or green beans. Potatoes are also a fun adventure for kids, especially at harvest time when they have to dig through the dirt to find each spud!
When choosing garden plants, it’s good for you to narrow down the options ahead of time. Have your child choose from a selection of plants you’ve reviewed to ensure the plant is suitable for the spot chosen. And it’s best to pick plants that are easy to care for.
Similarly, houseplant options can also be narrowed down to easy houseplants. In addition to easy plants, it’s also important to make sure the plant is suitable for the chosen spot.
Lastly, when it comes to houseplants, you’ll also want to consider if the plant is toxic, especially with young children or pets.
3. Keep It Simple
Every plant or garden is going to require at least a little work, but some plants require more effort than others. So remember to keep it simple – too many plants and kids may become overwhelmed. Help your child match the plant’s needs with her or his attention span.
4. Having the Right Tools
You’ll want to use tools suited for children. Right sized tools will fit more comfortably in your child’s hand, which will make gardening and planting much more enjoyable.
However, don’t pick toy tools. You want to have sturdy tools that will last. Children’s tools can be found at many gardening centers. And don’t forget about gloves.
Picking out tools can be a fun activity to help encourage anticipation.
5. When to Start
Spring is the time to start. This is the time when plants are beginning their new growth for the year and the time when seeds should be planted. Even with indoor plants, pick spring because houseplants come out of their dormancy in the spring.
6. Time for Planting
Now for the fun part – it’s time to plant! Whether they’re planting a vegetable garden, perennials, or caring for a houseplant, children will need to be taught the steps to care for their plants.
Teach children how seeds should be planted, watered, and thinned if needed. For seedlings and larger plants, children will need to learn how to dig holes and work the soil.
And don’t forget about watering. Children need to learn how to water their garden or plant. For indoor plants, teach them how to feel the soil for dryness.
Outdoors, you’ll also need to make weeding part of the schedule. And once done, don’t forget about teaching them how to clean and properly put away their tools.
Make plant care part of their weekly routine. Whether outdoors or indoors, this will include checking their plant’s overall health, looking for any signs of distress or pest problems, and watering as needed for the particular plant.
7. Plants as a Teaching Tool
Plants present a great opportunity to help kids learn about nature and caring for living things. They can be used as a tool to help an upset child calm down. Digging in the dirt, touching their plant, or talking to their plant can be relaxing. Plants can be a good listening ear; they like being talked to.
Caring for plants can also boost a child’s confidence and encourage responsibility. So, don’t be afraid to take advantage of these benefits to help your child learn and grow.
8. Make It Fun
You don’t want your child to see this as a chore, so make plants fun and enjoyable. First, make sure the plants and any tools are easily accessible. If using a raised bed, check the height.
Take pictures as the plant or garden grows, and make a scrapbook or, for the tech-savvy, a time-lapsed video.
Planting vegetables? When ripe, do a recipe together. It’s a great way to help kids make the connection between farm and food.
Encourage them to get their hands into the soil – kids love playing in the dirt.
9. Mistakes Are Okay
Lastly, don’t be afraid to let your child make a mistake and learn from that mistake. Guide your child, remind him or her of tasks to be done, but resist the urge to take over.
Whichever direction you take – whether indoors or outdoors – working with plants is a great way to spend family time together and encourage your child’s creative juices.
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