Gardening with kids

How to make your garden fun and educational for children of any age

Gardening with kids

Jessiah, a kindergartner, and his mom, Sakeeya, plant cabbage seeds during a Hudson Valley Seed "garden time" program in his classroom. The seeds were planted in pots made of toilet paper tubes, and later transplated to their school garden.

There is so much for children and youth to learn in a garden! When a child plants a kale seed, waters it, observes the plant’s growth, notices bugs that interact with the plant, learns what the plant needs, harvests the leaves and, finally bakes them into kale chips, that child naturally learns through the experience. 

Without even realizing they are learning, in a garden kids can enjoy applying hands-on math skills, doing scientific investigations, writing, reading, and , exploring and developing critical thinking and problem solving skills. Also, kids who garden tend to eat healthier.

Hudson Valley Seed Company's research shows that when students have the opportunity to directly engage with a new vegetable, they are going to try it and are more likely to enjoy it.

Read more: It’s raining, it’s pouring –make a rain garden!

Are you interested in engaging your child in gardening? Here are suggestions for doing just that. These activities can be adapted for every age. (If you don’t have a garden, many of the following activities can also be done in a forest or yard.)

Working in the garden:  

  • Weed N’ Read: one person reads to another who is weeding and then switch
  • The Alphabet Game: choose a category and take turns stating something that belongs in that category, going through the alphabet. Each person does a different letter. For example, if the category is types of food you might say apple for a, and the next person might say blueberry, and so on.

Scavenger Hunts

  • Find an example of each part of a plant: root, stem, leaf, flower, seeds, fruit (anything with seeds inside).
  • Match pictures in seed catalogs to something found in the garden.
  • Find all the colors of the rainbow.
  • Hide things in garden for kids to find. Use descriptive language and garden vocabulary to guide their search.
  • Give kids seeds and challenge them to find the corresponding plant.

Worms and Insects

  • Create a compost pile and/or place in the garden just for soil exploration where kids can dig and discover the soil ecosystem. Any covered area of ground will attract all kinds of soil critters, especially worms, sow bugs/roly-polies, and millipedes.
  • Capture caterpillars and provide them with plenty of food (the specific leaves you find them on) and watch them create a chrysalis. Be sure to let them go once they have transformed.
  • Create a bug identification guide.

Observations & Explorations

  • Have kids create and work in garden journals. They love to sit and draw what they see in the garden. If creative writing interests your child help them to write garden poetry.
  • Create charts to track growth and plan harvests.
  • Encourage sensory experiences of the garden: go on a “smell safari,” give a blindfolded guided tour, take moments of silence to focus on listening, plant herbs to taste and smell.
  • Create garden-related art projects. There are so many options for this! Check out Pinterest (and various other websites and books) for tons of ideas to make garden adornments, tools, and creative works of art.
  • The Camera Game: One person pretends to be a camera while the other is a photographer. The “camera” closes her/his eyes and is led through the garden until a “photo op” is chosen. Arrange the “camera” (manipulate body and instruct to squat or lie down or stand on toes, etc.) and then have the camera open his/her eyes to see the image.
  • Encourage new and different angles of vision such as lying on the ground looking up, extreme close-ups with a magnifier.

Enjoying the Harvest

  • Make a dish that features all plant parts (using as much harvested from your own garden as possible). For example: a salad of spinach (leaves), celery or asparagus (stems), carrots (roots), cucumber or tomato (fruits, because they have seeds inside), beans or peas or corn (seeds), and broccoli or edible flowers (flowers).
  • Create a recipe book: each page can include a kid’s drawing of the crop featured in that recipe, along with other information like nutrition and fun facts.

Happy gardening!

Nicole Porto is an educator and outreach coordinator with Hudson Valley Seed CompanyHudson Valley Seed Company is a non-profit organization that educates students in various academic subjects through school gardens. Their weekly lessons focus on healthy eating, and curriculum-integrated science, math, and literacy. They currently work in 7 school gardens located in 3 counties that serve over 1,500 students.

Recommended reading:

Chop Chop Family

The Reason for a Flower by Ruth Heller

An Earthworm’s Life by John Himmelman

What Do Roots Do? by Kathleen V. Kudlinski

A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Aston

From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons

A Fruit is a Suitcase for Seeds by Jean Richards

How a Seed Grows by Helene J. Jordan

Compost Stew by Mary McKenna Siddals

Gardening Lab for Kids: 52 Fun Experiments to Learn,Grow, Harvest, Make, Play, and Enjoy Your Garden by Renata Fossen Brown

Garden to Table: A Kid’s Guide to Planting, Growing, and Preparing Food by Katherine Hengel

Good Bug Bad Bug by Jessica Walliser