Gardening in itself is a challenge. Gardening with your little ones, well, that just makes things interesting.
I consider myself nearly a veteran now, this being my third season of gardening in some capacity with a little one. And while as a parent you're likely thinking of all the ways those trowels or rakes can become a weapon in a child's hands and imagination, gardening with your children is actually a fun experience.
This weekend, I had a blast digging in the dirt, sowing seeds and planting vegetable starts with not only my oldest child, but the baby (who ate his first dirt, I guess, at least it was organic!) and four of the older neighbor kids, who were wholly impressed by what a sprouting bean looks like. I sent home several small pots as souvenirs...What does it hurt?
Gardening with your little ones - even toddlers - can be a fun experience. They want to be like mom and dad, and they are attracted by things popping up and the thrill of mud. Face it - you can control the circumstances or they can find it on their own.
Still, gardening with your little ones requires patience, as I can attest. I've lost count of the times my daughter flooded areas of my garden, dug out something she shouldn't, ran off when she was supposed to be "helping" or picked things before they were ready. But I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.
I've discovered a few tricks along the way that might help you out, especially if you have children in preschool or younger:
Get their own equipment. They're going to use a toy shovel, or they'll try yours. Decide which does the least damage. My daughter is thrilled with her own equipment, down to her own set of Dora garden gloves, garden hat (which a friend bought her two autumns ago), watering can (which she's used since she was barely walking) and garden tools.
Start small. The first two seasons in my home, we opted not to put in our raised beds. With our schedules, a pregnancy and a little one, we had no time to start gardens. Instead, we started with container gardening and some strawberries and herbs mixed in with our plants. Buying plants from the farmers market is a relatively inexpensive way to go as well.
Appeal to their senses. Gardening from seed is a painstaking process, but you can liven it up from your little ones. Start seeds indoors in peat pellets - which can speed up the process, not to mention is easier to find the sprouts than in a large bed.
"Paint" a little to get started. I found a great idea in Organic Gardening magazine recently. It was on how to space seeds, particularly small ones, easily. Simply tear your newspaper into strips, and "paint" spots with a mixture of flour and water at the distance the seeds need to be spaced. Then put the seeds on the "paint" spots. Allow to dry, then bury at the depth the seeds need to be painted. This was a quick way to get my seeds planted, allowed me not to waste seeds, and gave my daughter a great outlet. What kid doesn't like to paint?
Go for a quick reward. Strawberries and beans are easy to grow and appeal to kids' tastes. Sometimes you just have to go easy!
This weekend, consider stepping out to the farmers market and letting your little one pick out a plant or two. Getting them to help in the garden is a fabulous way to help them connect to the earth, realize that food doesn't come from a store shelf and just unleash some energy. Whatever this season brings you, enjoy the ride!