Children in a garden

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There is something so wonderful about gardens to a child’s eye.

Like a mini jungle, little footsteps seek out the adventure and wonder amidst the towering plants. There are so many things to discover, colours to look at and dirt to play in. The touch and feel of different leaves amuse little hands. With a little extra enthusiasm, you can add some elements to your garden to make it even more magical for a child to play in.

After all gardening with your children creates memories.

Why not make it even more magical?

Kids Garden Design by Sophie’s Patch

Photo from enviro-explorers.com

Kids Garden Fort from Traditional Home

~Magical Vegetables for a Children’s Garden~

There are some vegetables that are a little more magical for children to grow as they’re related to some of the childhood classics.

  • Pumpkins will easily remind children of Cinderella. The large vining plants spread far and wide in all sorts of directions and children can carve the pumpkins for Halloween. Try heirloom and Cinderella pumpkins.
  • Jack and the bean stalk will have a whole new meaning when kids can plant the large seeds themselves and watch them climb upwards, open pretty flowers and pop out beans.
  • Vegetables that little hands can help open are fun like peas, shell beans and edamame.
  • Colourful veggies add another dynamic. There’s purple, speckled or yellow snap beans, rainbow carrots, easter egg radishes or even purple cauliflower or peas. You’ll be surprised at the variety of colours many vegetables come in! When selecting your seeds in catalogs look for the colourful fun ones. Here’s a list of purple ones we’ve grown.

~Garden elements for a Children’s Garden~

Teepees

Is there anything more fun for kids to sit under than a teepee? Using large bamboo poles you can make a teepee and tie string across each pole and grow peas, beans or malabar spinach (a vining heat loving leafy green) up them. Teepee’s will be easier for little children to sit under than for older kids.

Image from Fix

We planted and grew a bean playhouse for our kids

~Sunflower Fort~

Sunflowers are beautiful to children and the height is amazing even to adults. By growing them in a circle or rectangle with a gap for an opening you can create a fort for them to play in. A nice bonus is that the inside will offer some shade from the hot summer sun, and kids can grow beans, morning glories or peas up the sunflowers for an extra crop. A sunflower fort is good for kids that are too big to fit under a teepee (even grown ups can enjoy them!).

~Tunnels~

Using large sticks or store-bought bamboo, you can build tunnels in your garden to allow beans, peas or even little pumpkins or squash to grow overhead. Tunnels are enjoyable for little ones to walk through and it’s a fun layout for them to harvest. Use two garden beds opposite each other and use the path way as the ‘tunnel’. Bean seeds or peas are easy for kids to plant and make perfect crops to grow and harvest in a tunnel.

~A Vegetable Patch of Their Own~

By creating a small space for your kids to grow their favourite vegetables you’ll be enticing them to eat more vegetables. By allowing them to choose what they grow, you’re giving them the opportunity to be closer to their food and appreciate the work that goes from seed to harvest.

~Flower Garden~

Flowers have an amazing effect on children. There is something fun and engaging about hand picking flowers of all sort of shapes, sizes and colours. By growing flowers for your children’s garden you’re also helping out the bees by giving them pollen and nectar which they in turn help to pollinate your food.

Some favorite garden flowers for kids

  • Calendula
  • Zinnias
  • Cosmos
  • Sunflowers
  • Nasturtiums
  • Wildflowers

~Fairy Wands~

Using flowers with long stems (or even sticks), your kids can have a fairy wand from the garden. My favourite ones are the allium flowers (onions, garlic, leeks that have gone to seed) as they have large pretty lobe flowers with stronger stems. I also love bachelor buttons for fun little ones.

~Magic for the Grown up World~

Perhaps the most magical thing about a children’s garden is for the adults to see their children want to eat vegetables. In our modern day world the convenience of grocery stores has greatly disconnected children from their food sources. In the garden they can observe a seed sprout or a little bee pollinate a flower and then a vegetable grows from that seed or flower. It will draw in new feelings towards these mystery vegetables and create a sense of curiosity and new appreciation.

Creating a magical garden for your kids is fun

and it allows kids to love gardening even more!

Check out this great list of age appropriate fun activities for your kids to do in the garden.

My name is Isis Loran, creator of the Family Food Garden. I’ve been gardening for over 10 years now and push the limits of our zone 5 climates. I love growing heirlooms & experimenting with hundreds of varieties, season extending, crunchy homesteading and permaculture.

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Now comes the fun part – it’s time to plan and design the garden itself! Here’s a very important tip: Plan big, but start small. A large project initially may be overwhelming and exhaust the enthusiasm of your students and volunteers. Let them get excited about the success of a bountiful, enjoyable, small garden; then expand as confidence and experience increases.

OUTDOOR GARDEN DESIGN
There are many different garden design options, depending on the space you have available, the goals for your garden program, and the amount of time and labor that can be devoted to the program. Including the children who’ll be gardening is crucial to every phase of the design process. For them to feel a sense of ownership of the garden, their ideas must guide the overall project. If you tell students, Here is where we’re going to have a vegetable garden, what is left for them to envision? If you ask students, What kinds of garden spaces would help you learn more about food and nutrition? you have presented a whole different level of interaction. Now students must investigate what kinds of food plants they can grow in their region, what environmental conditions those plants need to grow, what connections those foods then have to their diets, and so on. You don’t need sophisticated designs to build a successful youth garden, but creating a physical plan helps you organize your plans and communicate your to-do list. Just don’t cast your plans in stone and remain open and flexible to spontaneous, creative suggestions from your young gardeners.

VISIONING
School and youth gardens can encompass everything from beds of vegetables and fruit plants to sensory gardens for touching and smelling, flower gardens to nurture pollinators, native plants to feed birds and butterflies, or rain gardens to help protect the watershed. Youth gardens might include seating areas, outdoor classrooms, or areas for creative play and exploration. Begin with visioning exercises with everyone involved in the garden project. Finding out how teachers will use the garden, how students will actively participate, and how the community will be welcomed can help you set the goals and mission of the project.

You may choose to conduct visioning sessions in individual classrooms or in an open forum such as an after-school or community meeting. A facilitator should lead the session and keep a running list of everyone’s ideas.

No school garden should be developed without active participation from as many students as possible. You can certainly establish boundaries (e.g., We’re going to consider what might go into a garden to grow food) but leave as many of the details as possible for the children to define. They ask to grow oranges and bananas in Chicago? Talk about why this isn’t typically done, and ask for them to figure out what kinds of fruits they might be able to grow. Let the group know that, though all contributions are welcome, some may be modified or eliminated based on practical constraints.

The bottom line is that no matter how well you plan and how beautiful a place you create, if the garden is not kid-generated, then kids will lack ownership. If kids lack ownership, they will lack a sense of stewardship. Sustainability requires stewardship. If the garden is to be used, respected and cared for, then stewardship is the key.

Be sure to invite teachers, parents, and community members to brainstorm ideas, too. Teachers might want space for an outdoor classroom or various beds to use for experiments. Parents might ask that part of the garden be devoted to use by very small children so they can bring younger siblings when they come to volunteer. The ideas people generate will fall into different levels of detail; cultivate a planning committee that is willing to take the ideas and develop an overall description.

For instance, if the visioning list includes the goals to teach history and geography, they might be united under the banner of a multi-cultural garden zone, which also could lead to discussions about ethnic and minority contributions to our culture and diet. Serving younger children may be accomplished through an area based on colors, shapes and senses.

SITE ANALYSIS
Next investigate the neighborhood context and features of the intended garden site. The formal process of assessing these issues is called site analysis, and will help determine where the actual garden will be located within the school campus or neighborhood, and what physical constraints it will face. It’s best if students can be involved in helping determine the location, but if there is only one available space, at least have them assess the space to develop a base map. This is simply a drawing that shows how big the space is and where existing features are located. Here are some examples of the kinds of things students should note for the creation of the base map:

Next, have students conduct a site analysis. They can analyze the whole campus in order to help determine where the garden might best fit. Have students make an inventory of existing features, summarize the site conditions, and brainstorm a list of needs. Ask them to also consider the surrounding neighborhood and what effects it has on the garden site, and vice versa. Ask students consider what else they should investigate to truly understand their site.

  1. Inventory Existing Features
  2. Start by sketching your garden space from a bird’s eye view by outlining the property lines and all of the existing features (e.g., shrubs, sidewalks, fences) on a piece of blank paper. Organizing students into teams to investigate certain parameters like size, soil type and drainage, light exposure, traffic flow (vehicular and pedestrian), and water (standing, flowing, and source for irrigating plantings) works well for this exercise. Have the teams develop maps of their research, all using the same scale. Choose a simple scale like 1/8 or 1/4 inch for each foot so they can use a regular ruler and graph paper with corresponding scale. This will help students visualize the scale as they draw.
  3. Use a large tape measure to take accurate measurements of the site perimeter and each existing feature noted on your sketch. Record the information in the appropriate places on the site sketch.
  4. Note the location of and distance to a water source.
  5. Plot the location of existing plant materials and landscape beds. Identify and label the existing plants and make note of their approximate size (height and width).
  6. Locate features you may not be able to see, including underground electricity, sewer, and water lines. You don’t want to dig into or otherwise interfere with these lines! Contact school maintenance staff or utility companies for assistance.
  7. Summarize Site Conditions
  8. Next, take time to observe your space. Answer the following questions to get started.
  9. How do people use the space now? If the proposed garden space is near a play area or high-traffic zone, will people run through the garden?
  10. Does the soil appear to drain well, or is it hard and compacted? Are there signs of drainage patterns or areas of poor drainage (e.g., standing water)?
  11. Where is the sun? Use a compass to determine the cardinal directions — east, west, north, and south — and note it on your sketch. Southern and western exposures typically receive the most sunlight. What path will the sun take across the space?
  12. Are there any trees or buildings that will shade the garden? If so, at what time and for how long?
  13. Does the ground have any unusual dips? Determine the slope of the land. Do you need to take measures to prevent erosion?
  14. What direction does the wind blow? Is there a steady wind across the site?
  15. Are there any views you wish to block, such as a busy road or a dumpster?
  16. Do you need to take measures to secure the site (e.g., with fencing)?
  17. Create a Needs List

Carefully consider how you plan to use the space, and then translate that into landscaping needs. Here are some examples:

  1. Do you plan to take large classes to the garden? If so, you’ll need enough space for them complete their tasks, and possibly a sitting area for demonstrations or class discussions.
  2. Will you plan to grow vegetables for a nutrition program, or hope to plant a butterfly habitat? The site must have 6 to 8 hours of full sun for these plants to thrive.
  3. Must the garden be handicap accessible? If so, plan for wide, level pathways.

CREATE A DESIGN PLAN

Create a Base Map
Finally, use the information from the visioning exercise and the site analysis to develop a conceptual garden design. By the time your site analysis is complete your initial sketch of the area will probably be cluttered! That’s okay, because it’s the ‘draft’ for creating a more orderly base map. Have each team transfer their drawings to tracing paper, and compile them into an overall site analysis by stacking the traced drawings. Ask students to discuss how the layers combine, and what additional information they derive from considering all the layers together rather than separately. On graph paper, use your measurements to create a correctly scaled drawing, including the property lines and existing structures and vegetation you plan to keep.

At the same time, summarize your needs list, observations, and other notes on one piece of paper for easy reference. Keep your original sketch just in case!

Brainstorm Using Bubble Diagrams
Once you have a base map, it’s time to brainstorm. Many landscape designers brainstorm by using bubble diagrams. These define open spaces using roughly drawn circles and squares rather than trying to determine specific sizes for the different areas. The advantage is that you can draw bubbles quickly, experimenting with different configurations, and can use different colors for clarity. Start simply, just drawing big “bubbles” on top of the base map to show the different garden zones being proposed. For example, your food production area may be a large bubble in the sunny zone, while the habitat area might occupy a more linear space along the building where there is shade from existing trees. Keep refining this concept to include more detail, like paths and places to sit. An easy way to do this is by laying pieces of tracing paper over the original base map. Another approach is to make copies of the base map and ask students to each come up with a possible design. Classes can then critique the plans and develop a final version using their favorite ideas from many plans.Start by placing a piece of tracing paper over your base map, or copy your map onto a transparent overhead sheet and lay another over it for sketching. On the second sheet, draw bubbles representing each component of your garden (beds, sitting areas, pathways). Try different arrangements (such as placing the sitting area in the center versus the side), shapes (circular beds versus rectangular beds), and sizes (i.e., a few large garden beds versus multiple small beds) until you develop a general idea of where you want to place the different components.

Define Beds and Hardscapes
Now you can take it to another level of detail. Start by defining beds, walkways, and any other paved areas. Beds can be in ground or raised, depending on your needs and soil condition. Decide which type of bed you prefer before deciding the shape, since materials available for raised beds can potentially restrict the shape and size. Next, draw in other hardscape elements and prominent features such as sitting areas, ponds, and patios.

Be sure to draw the plan to scale so that you don’t run into space problems later. Although you’ll need to leave room in the design for flexibility, hardscape items define the underlying structure of the garden and have more permanence than other features.

Choose the Types of Plants
Now you can make some decisions about broad types of plant materials — in an edible garden, vegetables, fruits, and herbs; in a landscape setting, shrubs, trees, perennials, vines, and annuals. At this stage you don’t have to know the specific plants you’ll grow, just the characteristics of plants you are looking for in terms of size, shape, growth habit, season of harvest, and so on. For example, maybe one bed is near an entrance and you want to plant something that blooms for everyone to enjoy. Perhaps the sunniest bed is destined for vegetables, and the sitting area needs a shade tree. You’ll choose specific plants in the next step!

Identify Your Plant List
Choose plants that can grow successfully in your region, that you can easily maintain, and that are blooming, growing, and fruiting at a time when kids are on site. Consult your Summary of Site Conditions for the space, light, and soil available on the site, and find plants with matching requirements. Use books and the Internet to find this information, or seek advice from garden center employees, plant nursery workers, or your the Cooperative Extension office.

CREATE A CONSTRUCTION PLAN
The next phase is to look critically at the design and determine how it can be constructed. If the soil or drainage is poor, you may have to build raised beds to grow food plants. If paths are desired, will less expensive mulch suffice, or is it worth the investment to use gravel or flagstone? Find out if there are parents with design or construction experience who are willing to donate time to help. But don’t worry if there aren’t such resources – you’ll be amazed at what students can do! Be sure to get student input about construction materials and approaches. Most students will gladly haul soil, compost and mulch – hard physical labor – to help achieve their vision. But it must be their vision.

To determine construction methods, look at landscaping books and magazines to see how others have built various features. Once the design and the construction approach are determined, you can start to calculate the kind and quantity of materials needed. A local landscape company or nursery may be happy to help with this for little or no fee for the sake of community involvement. You then can start the process of raising funds and securing in-kind donations to build the garden. Many schools seem to struggle with the fundraising phase, but having a defined plan and list of needs makes it much easier, for both fundraisers and donors. Potential supporters can see you are committed and have a plan that was developed with lots of student and community input.

While it’s good to plan comprehensively for the whole garden, it’s generally best to start implementation with one area. Create the habitat zone or the food production area the first season, and meanwhile build support for other zones. However, if students have worked hard on planning, be sure to do at least some construction during that school year as a reward. They need to see at least some of the vision come to life, and everyone should have the benefit of putting at least one plant in the ground.

Looking for garden ideas for kids? Or perhaps you’re redesigning your garden and want to make it child-friendly? You can use this guide to make your garden both fun and safe for little ones – we include everything from garden design features to choosing plants and activities to enjoy as family – and, of course, talk about installing child-friendly play equipment into your garden. Best of all, we think adults will enjoy our garden ideas for kids, too.

Once you’re done, head to our dedicated feature on designing a garden from scratch more garden-related advice and ideas.

(Image credit: Malcolm Menzies)

1. Provide safe outdoor play equipment for children

With very young children, safety is the first consideration, so you will be thinking about enclosures, inflatable pools, ensuring raised decks or steps have bannister rails, that ponds are covered and that surfaces are soft and forgiving – and, of course, making sure that the plants in your garden will not harm your inquisitive toddler if she or he decides to touch or taste them (this goes for pets, too).

The flatter your garden the better because it will remove the need for steps for youngsters to negotiate, will mean you don’t need to rail off raised areas, and will create expanses of space for them to enjoy safely.

However, if your garden does slope, having it terraced, with safety rails, will give your child areas to enjoy freely. If you have very young children and a large or terraced garden, you might also like to install a gate at far end of the terrace nearest the house or patio to limit their movement. As they get older, this of course can be easily removed.

Young children will do best playing in enclosed garden activity features, such as inflatable ball pools and netted trampolines, both of which need flat surfaces to work well.

Consult our buyer’s guide to the best trampolines to choose the right one for your garden.

Green 8 ft Trampoline, B&Q

(Image credit: B&Q)

2. Make your garden suitable for older children

With older children, you can start exploring fun, challenging activities and games, and learning about plants and wildlife – and sustainability. You may want to encourage them to grow a kitchen garden (they’re never to young to find this fascinating). Find out how to grow your own organic fruit and vegetables, too.

You might also need to create space for a larger climbing frame, a treehouse, a football pitch or goal, a netball post and, as a result, choose plants that can stand up to being bashed about. A row of espalier fruit trees, a shrub border or trellis around the garden will hopefully stop balls going into the neighbours’ gardens regularly.

As the kids get older, they will be able to safely enjoy a proper water feature, or even a swimming pool if you have the space and budget.

As your children get older and can safely be in the garden out of sight, you might like to put up ornamental trellis with climbers on it or a pergola, both with the intention of screening the view of their play areas from the house or from the patio where you’ll hopefully be unwinding.

It’s unlikely you’ll want to spend out on redesigning your garden every five years, so bear all this in mind when you’re designing your garden from scratch. You may not be able to imagine your toddler swinging from a treehouse now, but it comes around quickly, so incorporating – or at least leaving space for – future activities and structures into your design now will save you money in the future.

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

3. Install a climbing frame

Let your kids enjoy the outdoors to the maximum with an activity centre. If you are a competent DIYer, you can easily build one yourself, but there are also plenty of options for buying an activity centre or climbing frame

What to bear in mind? Climbing frames need a flat, stable base and, if self-built, must be constructed to take the weight of adventurous children swinging off their extremities – you can always bury the wide footing supports if you don’t want to see (or forever be tripping over them).

Wooden climbing frames must be built from suitable wood – usually pressure-treated, and will last longer if given an annual coat of preservative.

Climbing frames with roofs provide shade and a no-need-for-a-tree treehouse – you’ll find your children spend hours up there.

What to include? A climbing wall, a slide and a rope swing will all get tons of use and improve children’s motor skills and, of course, their bravery!

We have a buyer’s guide to the best climbing frames to make choosing one easier.

4. Create a shaded spot for rest and play

Gardening for kids can be tiring when they’re small, while big ones love somewhere to lounge about, so it’s a good idea to have a designated area with plenty of seating for a garden game (we have the best garden games to choose from), a snack or a lie down.

Providing plenty of shade is a must, especially during the summer months. Think patio umbrellas or pergolas. Then add climbing plants in a vertical garden to create a living canopy.

A raised decking area will work – great for bare feet, and less slippery and more forgiving than patio paving. Find out how to install your own deck in our guide.

5. Gardening for kids: our tips

Little Thoughtful Gardener Kids Watering can and Sunflower Seed Set, available at Cuckooland

(Image credit: Cuckooland)

Children love getting involved with what their parents are doing in the garden – from choosing plants to creating a kitchen garden, so make gardening inclusive and manageable by providing your child with their own, personalised kit for planting and watering.

Designating a bed or allowing them to create their own container garden will stoke year-round interest, too.

Find out more about container gardening for small spaces. And use our guide to gardening for beginners to get newbie adults green-fingered, too.

Kid’s Small Personalised Crate with Seeds by Plantabox

(Image credit: Plantabox)

6. Top plants for kids

(Image credit: Waitrose Garden)

Choosing plants in a garden where children will be playing comes with two main considerations. The first one is safety: avoid plants that are poisonous or are known skin irritants. Common garden favourites to steer clear of are lily of the valley, daffodils, and foxgloves.

Less common varieties to steer clear of are Daphne, which has poisonous berries, and Euphorbia, because its stems ooze white sap when picked that is a nasty skin-irritant. Cherry laurel, mistletoe, rhubarb leaves, laburnum, delphinium should also be avoided. This is not an extensive list, so it is best to double check before buying anything. Plants such as fuchsias, clematis, begonias and busy lizzies are safe choices.

On the other hand, encourage plants that are safe and fun for your children to pick, such as strawberries and tomatoes. Lawn-side plants need to be resilient to withstand being trampled by feet and footballs – Crocosmia, Escallonia, Elaeagnus, Euonymus, Choisya and ornamental grasses are pretty tough.

Want to encourage your kids to grow plants? Pick easy-to-grow plants such as sunflowers, marigolds, carrots, and lavender. They can all withstand a bit of neglect, grow quickly, and give a big visual payoff children will love.

Find out more about how to choose plants for your garden in our guide.

(Image credit: Micro Scooters UK)

7. Encourage wildlife into your garden

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Gardening for kids should be educational, as well as fun, and you can do this by creating a wildlife-friendly garden. Watching birds and insects, and learning about them, can provide hours of fun – and is good for the environment (obvs). Bird feeders, bird houses, and bee hotels will make even more of an impact, and why not make one with your kids over a weekend? Find out more about creating a bee-friendly garden in our guide, and don’t miss our pick of wildflower seed mixes – they can scatter them, then watch the blooms appear.

(Image credit: Not On the High Street)

8. Include an adult area in your garden, too

Don’t give over your entire garden to the children. It’s worth creating a space that’s adult-friendly, too. It might be that you screen it with planting to stop balls flying in and to create a private space to sun yourself when they have their friends round. It’s also somewhere you can safely plant more delicate blooms that will be susceptible to damage where they play. Perhaps it’s the deck (use our guide to find out how to plan yours) in front of a summerhouse? Or a raised patio (another handy guide)? Whatever, it’s worth teaching them to respect that it’s about quiet-time.

(Image credit: My Landscapes)

More ways to make your garden gorgeous:

  • How to plan and design a new garden from scratch
  • How to create an eco-friendly garden
  • How to install decking

Mary CassattChildren in a Garden (The Nurse)

Public Domain

Mary Cassatt became well known for her paintings that depict women and children in domestic settings. Children in a Garden (The Nurse) is the first major Impressionist canvas of the outdoors that she painted, and it is one of her early masterworks. She included it in the eighth Impressionist Exhibition in Paris in 1886, and in her first major U.S. solo exhibition in 1895. The painting shows a nursemaid knitting while seated on a bench in a flower-bordered garden. One of her charges sleeps in a nearby carriage, and the other plays at her feet. As with much of Cassatt’s work that was based on closely studying family, friends, and servants, this scene offers an intimate glimpse into the private lives of the subjects and portrays the charming characteristics of children and babies without the sentimentality that distinguished so many paintings of the time. Unusual for Cassatt, however, is the work’s looser application of paint, its off-center composition, and its emphasis on the landscape. The bright sunlight knits the composition together; brilliant colors sweep through the canvas; and expertly articulated figures show the artist’s disciplined draftsmanship and her ability to make them lifelike through careful dabs of paint. For example, the slightly downturned mouth of the baby in its carriage, along with the hand nestled against its face for comfort, indicate deep, peaceful sleep.

Cataloguing data may change with further research.

If you have questions about this work of art or the MFAH Online Collection please contact us.

Experiential learning is learning through the reflection of doing. Some of the many great things about school and home gardens are the endless possibilities of learning through doing. The Sustainable Food Center (SFC) Teaching Garden hosts hundreds of children a year through school field trips, summer camps, and volunteer work days. Community gardeners and neighbors also visit the garden to play, explore, and learn about food production. The experience they get at SFC’s Teaching Garden is very different from a classroom setting. They get dirty and sweaty (or very cold!); they smell the aroma of herbs; and they taste flavors from plants like strawberries, arugula, and chives. They see (and smell) food and plant scraps composting and turning back into soil. In a garden, the entire life cycle of a plant can be explored. Not only are environmental sciences available to explore in a garden, so too are art, writing, and math. One of our favorite garden activities is to find, collect and sort plant parts, counting how many categories we have and discussing the role of each part. It’s simple but fun, active, and tactile. Pull out a microscope to explore all of the plant parts, and a whole new world is opened up. Having an art or writing period in a garden will invoke feeling and inspiration in students. Teachers can introduce great painters like Claude Monet and Georgia O’Keeffe and ask students to create their own masterpiece with inspiration from the garden.

In a garden, children also learn about the resources necessary to grow their own food, such as water. The connection between food production and the water cycle is effectively demonstrated by having a child help water seedlings. At the SFC Teaching Garden, we have recently installed a simple rainwater collection system which demonstrates a direct correlation to the water cycle, weather patterns, and water conservation. And when a butterfly, bee or insect is spotted in the garden, an opportunity to discuss pollinator importance in food production is presented. In April, the SFC Teaching Garden will welcome honeybees into a newly built apiary. Children will be able to safely view bees in their hives as well as pollinating plants throughout the garden.

Another benefit of a garden is that there is greater connection to food when children see it growing and then harvest and eat it. A child that refuses to eat a green vegetable may feel more adventurous when she picks it from the garden herself. Children can take part in cooking too. A pizza garden is a great way to bridge gardening and cooking. To make a pizza garden, create a circle-shaped garden bed with a 4’ radius. Divide the circle into six pie-shaped wedges. In each wedge plant oregano, basil, parsley, chives, tomatoes and peppers. These will be the ingredients for your pizza. After the produce has ripened, prepare for a pizza party. Make or buy pizza dough – kids love rolling it out – and using the tomatoes and herbs, make a pizza sauce. Top with bell peppers, cheese and anything else you’d like.

There are many experiential learning opportunities in a garden. The SFC Grow Local School Garden Activity Guide has more ideas for easy educational activities that can be done in a school or home garden, and it can be purchased here.

If you would like to schedule a field trip to the SFC Teaching Garden for a hands-on learning experience for children PreK-12th grade, you may do so here.

How gardening can help build healthier, happier kids

When our cherry tomatoes blush red each summer, my son eagerly plucks them from the vine and pops them in his mouth. He points at random plants and proudly declares, “That one’s mine!” And occasionally, he yells in panic as the hose from the rain barrel overflows his tiny watering can.

Admittedly, gardening with kids isn’t always idyllic.

But even when it’s chaotic, it can be tremendously beneficial. Scientific research suggests that getting up close and personal with dirt can improve children’s mental and physical health. Gardening can help kids burn off extra energy and control their impulses, develop strong immune systems, and willingly consume more fruits and vegetables. What’s not to like?

And despite the gloomy news from studies showing that tweens and teens spend an average of six to nine hours a day on screens, more families with kids are gardening now than 10 years ago. According to the National Gardening Association, gardening in households with children increased by 25 percent from 2008 to 2013, as families have awakened to the hidden benefits of the ancient pastime.

The calming effect of the outdoors

Even when my 4-year-old is bouncing off the walls, he visibly relaxes when we head outdoors, finding the self-awareness to avoid stepping on delicate plants. Similarly, my 1-year-old stops whining and focuses on drawing in the dirt.

(Rosanna Tasker for The Washington Post)

My kids aren’t alone. The natural stimulation of being outside seems to replenish minds exhausted from practicing self-discipline. It re-energizes the part of the brain that controls concentration, checks urges and delays gratification.

A study of 169 girls and boys in a public housing development in Chicago found that girls who had greener views from their apartments did better on tests that measured self-discipline. Of the range in test scores, one-fifth of the variation could be explained by the differences in the “greenness” of the kids’ surroundings.

These benefits may be even greater for children with attention-deficit disorder. A survey of 96 families in the Midwest asked parents which activities appeared to decrease their child’s symptoms and which seemed to increase them. Parents consistently chose “green” activities as having a positive effect on their child’s symptoms.

“Most of us have a pretty significant nature deficit and would be healthier if we could address that deficit by spending a little more of our time in an outdoor setting,” says Robert Zarr, founder of Park Rx America and a pediatrician in the District. Park Rx America encourages doctors and other health providers to “prescribe” time in nature.

And that time in nature may even allow us to use our senses in new ways, experts say.

“It’s about planting the plant and watching it grow, but it’s also about other things,” says Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods” and co-founder of the Children & Nature Network. “It’s about turning over the rocks. It’s about getting your hands muddy and your feet wet. It’s about using more of your senses. It’s about being in the world.”

Gardening combines the general benefits of being outside with the opportunity to tackle a project. My 4-year-old proudly waters the blueberry bushes and weeds around the garden fence. He’s building his ability to focus as well as his executive function, or capacity to manage information and react to situations. For example, he quickly learned that his watering can will overflow if he doesn’t pay attention. And older children can take responsibility for their own green space.

“If the kid has a solitary experience creating his or her own garden, there’s a special magic to that,” Louv says.

Eating dirt can be good

My 1-year-old isn’t old enough to do anything in the garden, but he joins us out there anyway. He spends most of his time playing in — and attempting to eat — the dirt. When I catch him, he looks up with a vaguely guilty expression and dirty smudges around his lips. It sounds gross, but his soil ingestion may actually be a good thing.

Research suggests that it’s essential for young children to develop a healthy “microbiome,” or personal microbe ecosystem. Although there are some microbes — bacteria, fungi and viruses — that make us sick, many more are essential to our health.

“The immune system is there to act like a gardener or a national park warden,” says Jack Gilbert, a microbiologist at the University of Chicago and co-author of the new book “Dirt Is Good.” “It’s there to promote the abundance and growth of good bacteria and act as a barrier to the generation of bad bacteria.”

Not being exposed to enough microbes as a child can result in an underdeveloped immune system, which can cause a host of problems, according to Gilbert, including autoimmune diseases, inflammatory bowel disorders and allergies. Being around dirt, in the garden or otherwise, can help kids develop that healthy microbiome that helps prevent these issues.

“Picking up soil and smudging it into their face, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Gilbert says. “Exposure to the outside environment . . . can be extremely beneficial in helping your child to grow a functional immune system and their brain and their body in the best way possible.”

Garden to dinner table

Active involvement in a garden can also make kids more willing consumers of vegetables, including unfamiliar varieties. My older son is definitely a more adventurous eater. My 1-year-old, meanwhile, doesn’t know the difference yet. Participating in the planting, watering and especially harvesting of vegetables creates a connection that you just can’t get from a trip to the supermarket.

This seems to be a pretty common experience. An analysis that looked at 14 studies of school, community and after-school garden programs found that in 10 of them, children ate more fruits and vegetables after participating in the program .

Mateja R. Savoie-Roskos, the lead author of that analysis and an assistant professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science at Utah State University, encourages parents to involve their kids throughout the season, from planting seeds and watering through harvesting.

“We want our kids to know how food grows and how we even get the food that we have,” Savoie-Roskos says.

Finding a space for gardening

Our family is lucky to have a dedicated outdoor space for plants. But even parents who don’t have a back yard have options.

Park Rx America’s database of green space, which includes hundreds of locations in the Washington area and thousands across the country, has a filter that allows users to find parks with community gardens. There are also many independently run community gardens, and school gardens are becoming increasingly popular. As of 2013, more than 30 percent of schools in the United States had gardens, an increase of about 12 percent from 2006, according to a study in the Journal of School Health. Children can even bring a little bit of nature to their deck or fire escape with a container garden.

Whether in your own little plot or as part of a larger space, gardening can provide children with a variety of benefits few other activities can.

Or as Louv says, “A garden can be a doorway into a larger universe.”

Shannon Brescher Shea is a science writer who also blogs about parenting and green living at We’ll Eat You Up, We Love You So. You can find her on Twitter @storiteller.

What kids love most about the summer is the fact that they get to spend a lot of time outdoors. This provides you as parents with the perfect opportunity to get crafty and to turn the backyard into a fun playground. There are lots of great ideas you can try and make sure you also involve the kids into your projects.

Chalkboard walls.

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Not really a fan of kids drawing with chalk on the walkway? Then get them a chalkboard and this way there will be a designated space just for that. You can install it on the fence, in the backyard.

Zip line.

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This is usually the type of activity you enjoy on vacations which makes it a perfect summer projects. Kids will love it and I’m sure their friends will too. A simple way of gaining popularity and having fun at the same time. Just make sure it’s safe.

Backyard tent.

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As a kid, a loved building tents under the table and hiding there. I’m sure your kids would love the idea of having a tent too, especially if you install it outdoors. It would be like an adventure for them.

Hanging chairs.

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As much as it’s fun to run around and play, sometimes you need to sit down and relax for a while. Hanging chairs have a way of making that fun too. Hang them in your backyard and the whole family can relax and enjoy precious moments.

A swing.

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The better version of a hanging chair, in a kid’s opinion, would be a swing. You can make one from an old chair and some sturdy rope. Paint it a bold color to make it look more attractive. It’s an easy week-end project.

Or perhaps a tire swing.

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You can also recycle your old tires. Use them to make fun swings for the kids. You’ll also need some chain and something to hang the swing from, like a tree. Make sure it’s all safe and secure before you let the kids use it.{found on livedan330}.

Beach-style fun.

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Kids of all ages love to play in the sand and, since you can’t spend the whole summer on the beach, bring a piece of it to your home. A sandbox would fit nicely in the backyard and you can even have a small pool.{found on wraysist3rs}.

Treehouse – a must have!

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Don’t think we’ve overlooked the number one DIY project for the backyard: the treehouse. It’s definitely a must-have, a place where kids can play together, set up meeting and have fun all day long. So, if you already have one, give it a quick makeover and, if not, you better start building one with your kid.{found on }.

A music fence.

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To make a music fence, you need a fence panel and any object you can think of that makes a sound when you hit it. You can use old pots and pans, wooden spoons and other things you find in the house or garage. Better yet, just let the kids discover them.{found on creativelyblooming}.

Climbing wall.

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A climbing wall is a great thing to have and not just for the kids. You get your daily dose of exercise and you have fun at the same time. At first, it would be best to have a mattress on the ground, just in case.

Outdoor Twister.

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With a little bit of colored spray paint and a stencil you can make a Twister game in your backyard. Make it as big s you want. You basically just paint the grass and the color will probably be gone with the first rain but it’s a fun idea for a summer party.{found on youplusmeforalways}.

Water features.

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Not all the projects have to be directly concerning the kids. Some can also be used to improve the décor in your yard or garden. A water feature is a nice example. There are plenty of ways to have fun with it and, the rest of the time, it’s just a beautiful accent feature.

Water balloons.

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Making water balloons is one of the easiest projects I can think of. You just take a package of balloons and slowly fill them with water. Tie the balloon securely with a string and then be creative. You can throw it from one another until it explodes or hang it from a tree and turn it into a pinata.{found on ziggityzoom}.

DIY water wall.

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A very simple and inexpensive project kids will enjoy this summer is a water wall. You just need a bunch of bottles or containers which you attach to a fence. Create a circuit for the water to follow and be creative.{found on }.

DIY water sprinkler.

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When you play all day in the yard it can get hot out there so a fun idea is to play with water. Make a sprinkler from a plastic bottle. Connect it to the garden hose and use tape to secure it nicely. Then poke holes with a drill or a nail or anything else.{found on }.

Splash pad.

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If you’re looking for an alternative for a pool for reasons of safety or any other reasons you might have, then try a splash pool. You can build one in your yard using non slippery tiles. It’s fun and child-friendly.{found on apartmenttherapy}.

Fun with bubbles.

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Remember when you used to make soap bubbles when you were a kid? That was a lot of fun. Share the knowledge with your kids and take the fun to a whole new level. Use a small plastic pool, a hula hoop and a lot of bubble solution to make huge bubbles.{found on onecharmingparty}.

Life size Angry Birds game.

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It’s crazy how much it can be to play Angry Birds, even as an adult. But how cool would it be to get a life-size game for your kids? You can make it yourself with some cardboard boxes r bricks and some painted water balloons.{found on simplystyledhome}.

Passing practice wall.

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Want to encourage your kids to be more active? Build a passing practice wall. You need a tarp on which to mark the targets. Then cut out the holes and line the edges with duct tape. Add point values with a marker and that’s all.{found on spoonful}.

A hammock.

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by Rob Karosis Photography

Of course, nothing can beat a hammock. It’s perfect if all you want is to relax and take a nap outside. Kids are great at making anything fun so I’m sure they’ll love experimenting with this too.

A movie area.

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Set up an outdoor movie area in the yard. Use picnic blankets, pillows and everything else that might make the experience more comfortable. Then, with a projector, you can watch old family movies or children’s movies with the whole family.

An unusual garden.

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If you have a garden, then I’m sure the kids enjoy getting involved and maybe even helping. Let them have their own little garden. Use old boots or other unusual containers and plant flowers which they can then take care of.

Storage for toys.

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by Lori Cannava

The toys the kids use outdoors need to be stored somewhere separately so you don’t bring all the dirt inside the house. A nice idea is to have a secret storage area inside the bench or the bed in the yard or on the deck.

Gardening Activities for Kids

We can not wait to get outside & do as many activities as possible!
If that is also your goal then this list of gardening activities for kids will surely prove to be a great resource for you! There are so many fun ideas here deciding where to start might be the only challenge!
Follow us on Pinterest & Facebook and for all the best kids activities!

GARDENING ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS

  • Up-cycle a few plastic bottles & turn them into these adorable planters.
  • Use eggshells to make a mini garden.
  • Take it a step further and make eggheads.
  • Turn an old toy truck into a mobile garden.
  • Explore science & grow a magic beanstalk.

  • Grow a garden using an egg carton.
  • Make Lego planters.
  • Turn your child’s old rain boots into a garden. My kids would love this!
  • Make a mini greenhouse.

  • Make newspaper pots with the kids & then plant them.
  • Make garden art from recycled cans.
  • Convert an old sandbox into a kids garden.
  • Turn old play dough containers into planters.
  • Create a fun hideout for the kids while also exploring how things grow with this DIY bean teepee.

  • Use recycled cans to make a tin can herb garden.
  • Use ice cream cones as planters. My kids found this hilarious for some reason.
  • Grow a grass house with the kids.
  • Get out the paint, & make garden markers using rocks.
  • Grow an adorable grass head friend.
  • Grow a colorful tin can garden.
  • Make & plant seed bombs with the kids.
  • Make a butterfly garden together.
  • Add a bit of cuteness to your garden & make a hungry caterpillar from rocks.
  • Make beaded garden markers.
  • Make Minion planters.
  • Grow a train garden together.
  • Make an egg carton greenhouse.
  • Turn old jeans into adorable planters.
  • Turn two-liter bottles into self watering planters.
  • Up-cycle favorite toys into planters, & then watch them grow!
  • Make .
  • Learn about how plants thrive with this water movement experiment.
  • Give your little one a place of their own with this adorable kids garden space.
  • Grow a seeded caterpillar.
  • Explore the science of seeds with this seed sprouting activity.
  • Make seed mosaics.
  • Explore plants while creating beautiful art and make a 3-D nature sun catcher.
  • Label your garden with these colorful kid made garden markers.
  • Make a grass growing pet.
  • Let kids make their own watering can from a milk jug; have them paint it for more fun.
  • Make bird feeders with the kids, and then hang them in your garden. You can find over 20 kid-made bird feeder ideas here.
  • Learn about plants & how they thrive with this fun flower experiment for kids.
  • Win coolest parent award & grow a sunflower fort.
  • Try growing a plant in a box.
  • Make a magical fairy garden.

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Books about gardening with kids
(Click the photos to view the books)
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MORE
for
KIDS:
Bird Feeder
Crafts for Kids
Kid Made
Wind Chimes
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