Do your children get excited when planting seeds in the spring, but they quickly lose interest after the first seedlings emerge? After many years of sharing my green thumb, here are a few secrets I've learned to keep gardening interesting and fun for young homeschoolers:
-Find children's gardening books and read them together.
-Let your child choose exactly what vegetables, flowers, or herbs he wants to grow. Go through seed catalogs and find easy-to-grow plants that are fast-growing. Also, choose kid-friendly flower varieties that can be cut for gift bouquets like marigolds, zinnias, daises, and salvia.
-Begin with a small 4 foot by foot garden and have your child draw a picture of what he wants and where he wants to place the individual plants.
-Start plants indoors from seeds using recyclable household containers like egg cartons or yogurt, cottage cheese, or butter containers.
-Put the garden where your child will play or walk every day, so he can notice changes as it grows.
-Encourage your child to draw pictures of each plant variety on index cards. Laminate the hand-made cards and attach them to popsicle sticks to use as row markers.
-Give your child his own watering can, and he won't be able to resist getting involved in gardening.
-Buy child-size gardening tools like a hoe, rake, spade, wheelbarrow, and gloves to make gardening chores seem like play.
-Help your child keep a journal to record what and when you planted, insect or weed problems, and rainfall amounts. Take pictures early on to document the garden's development.
-Let your child make mistakes and have control of his own garden. Provide age-appropriate help, but don't do everything for him. It's okay if the rows aren't straight or the garden isn't perfectly weeded.
-Personalize the garden. What child isn't enthralled with a sense of ownership when seeing a sign with his name that says, "Joshua's Garden?"
-Look at the bigger picture. Teach your child other aspects of gardening, including how to mulch, compost, and discover God's infinite array of garden insects.
-Have your child look through family favorite recipes or find new ones to sample his crop when it's time for harvest. Let him get involved in the cooking process and teach him how to can or freeze extra vegetables and fruits for the winter months. Plus, be sure to let your child experience the special joy that comes when sharing excess produce with friends and neighbors.
Remember, if your child's first experiences with gardening are fun and successful, the chances are good he'll also develop a green thumb that will stay with him for life. Young gardeners simply need to start with fun and easy plants, and their curiosity and wonder about growing things will naturally take root. Before you know it, you'll have an enthusiastic assistant for all your future gardening projects!