Gardening is one of the most satisfying of all activities, irrespective of age. Planting a seed and seeing a plant grow from it offers a sense of achievement and pride that even a toddler will feel, even if the process by which it has happened is not completely understood. While the colors and beauty of flowering plants will add to a child’s appreciation of nature, being part of the process of growing vegetables will encourage children to eat even those for which they have an instinctive dislike.
Gardening can be a very positive preschool or day care activity and the children will love it. It doesn't to need a large amount of space and expensive equipment. A small patch of earth and a few basic child friendly tools are all that is required. Having said this, teachers must ensure that the children are closely supervised at this time – putting dirt and unwashed vegetation in their mouths is something all kids love to do.
Tips For Gardening With Toddlers
The basic principle to keep in mind is that gardening must be made safe for the kids – having fun while doing it will come naturally to them.
- Use gardening tools that are designed for use by young kids. These are safe with no sharp edges on which they can cut themselves. And the small size makes it easy for small hands to hold, lift and use.
- Find age appropriate gardening tasks for the kids. The youngest ones may not be able to do any planting, but watering plants will come naturally to them. Most of them will enjoy plucking and picking and helping to keep the garden area clean. And they will all love to dig in the dirt and make shapes with the mud they dig up.
- When flowers and vegetables are ready for plucking, let the children do it. Show them how to do the plucking without damaging the plant. This may take a few repetitions. But once they learn how to do it properly, they will truly enjoy collecting the flowers to decorate the classroom or the vegetables which they can eat themselves.
- Gardening need not always be outdoors. Find some visually appealing and fast growing plants and place the seeds between layers of wet paper towels. Place this in a plastic bag and keep it in a warm place. The kids will enjoy watching the seed germinate and being able to see the changes happening in front of their eyes will be fascinating. Toilet paper cylinders and egg cartons make great planters into which the germinated seeds can be transferred.
- When the sprouts in the planters have grown big enough to be planted outside, let the kids do this. Be prepared for a lot of plants to be lost – kids can be too rough with them. But when they see the damage they are doing by being too rough with the plants they grew, they will learn the need for being gentle and careful
- Keep the gardening fun by installing a fairy house or placing a few small plastic animals around the garden for the kids to play with. Here too some of the plants may be damaged in the early stages of playing, but the kids will naturally become more careful when the see the damage that is being done to their loved plants.
If there is enough space, keep some aside for the kids to try and plant and maintain a garden on their own – but under “hands off” adult supervision. Of course they will mainly make mistakes and do the wrong thing, but that is the whole point. When they see the difference between their own efforts and what is done with adult guidance, they will want to do better.