8 Tips for Gardening with Kids

gardening with kids

I love getting outside with the kids and digging in the garden. They love getting out there and putting their hands in the dirt, planting their seeds and then watching attentively each day waiting for that first bit of green to come up.

They get so excited when it peeks through and though I sometimes have to tell them things like not to overwater their plants, they love the experience and enjoy the success of producing their own flowers or food.

Benefits of Gardening with Kids

mud activitiesGardening with children provides many benefits and learning and you can start involving them at a very young age. It builds upon their innate curiosity to learn and ask why, learning by doing and of course nurturing their love of playing in the dirt (playing in the dirt is actually good for you!)

It teaches them responsibility, environmental awareness, patience and developmental benefits such as fine motor skills and planning and organizing. There’s even scientific and math concepts that you can teach through gardening which I always find so amazing how nature can teach us just by being involved with it. Plus it’s a fabulous bonding experience and it’s fun! Not to mention that your outside getting exercise and soaking up the sunshine.

Gardening with kids can be super easy and with these tips you’ll have success in no time.

Tips for Gardening with Kids

Give them their own spot – this is the most important thing. The kids need to feel like they have their own spot that they can garden in and that you are ok to relinquish control over! You should certainly work with them and guide them on what to do, but you really want to allow them to do it and try a few things as that is how they learn. It’s ok for them to plant a seed too deep and have it not come up or to over water an area. Yes you want them to experience success but it’s also ok for them to experience something not working. Then there’s the opportunity to discuss and explore why. And if you don’t have a lot of space try container or pallet gardening.

IMG_0900Give them their own gardening tools – set them up with their own kids size gardening gloves, garden shovel, knee pad, etc. which are easily found at your local garden center or online sites like Amazon. When they have their own tools to work with it makes them feel more important and that they have more control. Also make sure their tools are durable and strong, invest in the metal ones, not plastic that can break easily.

Start from seed – one of the best learning experiences in the garden is to start right from the beginning. I know in some climates the growing season is short and it’s easier to buy seedlings and plant those. Children will learn more by seeing the growing process right from the beginning – plus they get so excited when they see that first shoot of green peeking through.

In those situations start your seeds earlier inside and then transplanting them to the outdoor garden once it’s warmed up (here in Calgary rule of thumb is nothing until after May long weekend). You could do a combination, some from seed and a few of seedlings, which is what I tend to do, which provides both experiences.

Let them pick what they want to plant – if they get to choose what plants they want then this not only empowers them it gives them a more vested interest in what’s happening. As the parent give them choices that would work in your garden space and that will provide the kids with the most success. Choose from this Top 10 list of Crops for Children which are easy to grow, have short growing seasons and are fun to harvest.

gardening with kidsLet them decorate their garden – let the kids add a little bit of their own flare to the garden by making their own garden stake or scarecrow. Adding a fairy house or some other decorative item to a corner of their garden. Let them be creative!

Show off their work – when showing off the garden – either physically or through pictures – make sure to highlight the kids garden. This will ensue a sense of pride and accomplishment and creates a motivator for them to continue.

Encourage them to work it right to the end – work with the kids to see the garden season all the way through. Get them to help care for the garden even after the fruit has been harvested and teach them how to prep it for the winter and next growing season. This is a valuable lesson in teaching them the importance of all the steps and how each step supports the fruit that they produced and enjoyed. As well as all about the circle of life.

gardening with kidsModel what you want them to do – the easiest way to get them started is to be gardening yourself. Kids watch and learn from the adults in their lives so if they see you doing it they are going to want to do it to. Encourage them when they come over and ask questions, give them small tasks to get them involved and take time to answer their questions.

When I was little my aunt had a huge beautiful garden (and still does) that she worked and enjoyed every year. I loved going to her place and helping her, asking questions. Even as a family we had a small garden plot – and as a result all 3 of us girls love gardening and do so in our adult lives.

Starting with these simple tips will ensure the most success for gardening with kids. As you get going and the kids get older, with more experience you can then introduce concepts like rain barrels and why they’re beneficial, planting specific plants to attract pollinators like bees, humming birds and why that’s helpful to the earth. It doesn’t mean you can’t talk about them now (as you are likely doing some of those things in your garden already) but you can use them as ways to expand and build on their knowledge as they go and so as not to overwhelm them with a lot of information at once.

The best tip though is to enjoy yourself! Get out there and have fun with the kids and reap the benefits as a bonus!

gardening with kids

Have some great tips for gardening with kids? Share in the comments below.

Get Dirty! Mud Activities for Kids – Outdoor Nature Activities for Kids

mud activities

Mud glorious mud! I love mud. I love playing in it, building with it, digging in it, rolling in it, squishing my toes in it. No wonder kids are drawn to it, it is so much fun to play with. Whether you are covering yourself in it from head to toe or creating something with it, it just feels good. And it’s good for us!

Mud often gets a bad wrap because it can be quite messy and a huge job to clean up. But playing in mud is actually extremely healthy for us and is part of an innate need to not only ground ourselves (connect to the Earth) but a basic biological need for our growth and development. Plus it’s fun!

mud activitiesPlaying in the dirt and mud has many physical, psychological and emotional benefits. The exposure to natural organisms in the dirt actually builds strong healthy immune systems, decreases the risk of allergies and asthma as well as decreasing anxiety, depression, stress and obesity. It allows kids to get creative and explore their natural world. Whether they are building a mud house, making mud pies or just squishing their fingers through it.

And there are so many options when it comes to playing in the dirt. When I started exploring different mud activities I was surprised at how many things there were to do. Many of them quite simple (I’m sure a child would just come up with these things but as an adult sometimes I need a little nudge in the right direction).

Playing in mud certainly does not have to be a structured activity and there is a lot of value in free play, such as discovering limits, developing creativity and ideas, testing things. I find kids can play in mud for hours without any specific goal or purpose and in that they are learning. But there is also value in guided and structured play which helps a child focus on a specific goal, leading to deeper learning, development and expanding their exploration.

When I announced to the twins that we had a ‘mud project’ to do, Chloe was all over it, while Luke was a little hesitant and said he might not do it. I said that was fine but knew once he saw what was going on he’d likely get in there. (And I was right!)

3 Simple Mud Activities for Kids

What you will need:mud activities

  • big bag of dirt
  • water
  • buckets
  • shovels
  • old clothes

We used our sand table and started by dumping a big bag of garden dirt into it. It was the perfect height for the kids and kept it contained in one spot. I had put the kids in old clothes so that I didn’t have to worry about staining or washing. We added water and off they went, immediately starting to mix with their hands.

The first thing I did was just let them mix it, squish it, shape it, do whatever they wanted with it. There were lots of oohs and awes and screams of delight at how sticky and messy it was. Chloe soon started covering herself in it.

I had set out the materials for the two other mud activities I wanted them to try so they were ready for them to move to when they were ready. These were mud painting and making mud bricks. I had explained to them beforehand what activities we were going to do so they knew what was happening. This allowed them to move at their own pace and complete the activities.

mud activitiesMud Painting

  • paint brushes
  • large sheets of bristol board

This is simply taking mud and painting with it. Get a large piece of bristol board (you’ll want bristol board or something similar in thickness as paper will get soggy fast with the water content in the mud); and some paint brushes and let the kids go to town. You may find that they’ll quickly discard the brushes for their hands and that’s ok too.

Mud Bricks

  • egg cartons

We used an empty egg carton and packed the mud into the different sections. I explained to the kids that we did not want the mud to be higher than the top of the carton and that they needed to be levelled off. Once the carton was full, we put it in the sun to let them dry and set. Curious and excited the twins wanted to know how long it would take them to dry. I told them it would likely take a day for them to be ready, then we could pop them out and build with them.

Tips to make your mud activities successful (and easy clean up)mud activities

  • do it outside
  • set up the space you want them to do it in
  • go over expectations for mud play (where to do it, what activities they could try, etc.)
  • use a large tupperware, sand table or something similar to mix up your mud
  • use old clothes so you don’t have to worry about staining or washing
  • hose them off (literally) and clean them up outside

And get in there with them! Mud play is good for us adults to. Think about it, we go to the spa and spend money to get a mud wrap, willingly. Not that I’m saying don’t go to the spa, as it has so many other benefits, but playing in the mud at home is free! And it’s a great way to connect with your kids and share beautiful, fun, happy memories. So go ahead get dirty! Play in the mud!

Going on a Sound Hunt… Outdoor Nature Activities for Kids

sound huntYesterday I took my kids on a sound hunt. I picked them up from school and we went straight to Fish Creek Park (a provincial park very close to our house) to play and explore. When I announced what we were doing Luke and Chloe were sooo excited. Luke even said so! He said “I don’t know what a sound hunt is but I am so excited to do it.” How wonderful! It made my heart swell how willing and open he was to the whole thing. A sound hunt, sounded exciting, it must be good.

Exploring nature through sound allows children to learn and recognize things they may not have noticed before. By engaging and focusing on sounds it allows children to connect what they hear with what they see. It also enables them to identify the many different sounds of nature. How the wind through the grass can sound slightly different than the wind through the trees. It begins to help them identify not only bird sounds, but that there are different kinds of birds. And once they hear and identify the different bird songs, their innate curiousity leads them to learning visually what the different kinds of birds look like.

As soon as we stepped out of the car Luke and Chloe were already telling me what they heard and named at least 3 things before we formally got started. They really were raring to go!

How to Set Up a Sound Hunt

What you will need:

  • notebook or paper
  • markers/ pencils
  • listening ears
  • a sense of adventure

sound huntI had brought along notebooks and markers to help record what we heard in the forest. I told them that we would be going for a walk through the park and listening for all the different sounds. We were to walk along quietly and when they heard something they were to stop, pause and then share what they heard. They set forth with their listening ears on and wonder in their eyes.

Shortly down the path, Luke stopped and said he heard wind, Chloe birds, an airplane. I said I heard our footsteps along the path. Cause although that was not a sound specific to nature it was one we were hearing in nature, and later could talk about the differences between the natural sounds and the sounds we made in nature and how they could be good or bad (a discussion about noise pollution).

sound huntThey did very well. We’d walk for a bit in silence, they announce some things they heard, chat for a bit about it, then we’d continue along in silence. The listening quickly lead to the visual connection and more discoveries and exploration. Our natural response when we hear something is to turn towards the sound and look. First we heard the squirrel and then turned to see him scampering by. We heard a bee buzz by, then spotted him digging around on the ground. We were able to watch him for a bit, which was quite fascinating and wondered what he was looking for. He was madly using his feet to search for something. After a bit, he flew off but not too far and we were able to watch him land and dig again. Also noticing that as he flew low to the ground searching for the ‘right spot’ to dig that he actually created enough air movement to move the pine needles on the ground without touching them. It was super cool!

We discovered and learned about woodpeckers and how they peck for insects in trees, examining the holes they left behind. We found chickadees after we heard their call and Luke even imitated their call. We even heard the noisy crow cawing over and over but actually didn’t see him.

chickadeeAt one point, we did stop along the path and I asked Luke and Chloe if they could tell the difference between the wind through the leaves and the wind through the grass, as there was a slight difference. At first they couldn’t but as I pointed out the subtle yet distinct differences they were able to identify them as well.

We heard many sounds. Gophers squeaking (they thought it was neat they squeaked), squirrels chirping, bees buzzing, wind, different kinds of birds (at least 3) and more. One of our favorite sounds was the creek gurgling by and Luke and Chloe were specifically on the hunt for this sound. They knew it was here from being to the park before and kept saying “Where is it?” not resting until they heard and found the creek.

When we did find it, after wading in and playing a bit, we sat by the creek and took out the notebooks. They each spent a few minutes writing or drawing the different sounds they heard in their books. Recording what they had heard and starring their favorites. Taking these extra few minutes to have the kids record what they have heard helps solidfy it and increases retention. It also gave us another opportunity to sit one more time and listen. Seeing if there were any new sounds that they had not yet heard on our sound hunt so far.

sound huntWe spent over an hour in the park playing, listening and learning. And when we returned to the house it was amazing how calm, grounded and happy they were. Chloe stayed outside and blew bubbles, while Luke came in and relaxed doing a guided children’s mediation. The whole experience was amazing! and we definitely reaped the benefits of our outing.

The other neat thing is is that after our adventure, I have heard Luke talking about and sharing it with others. Telling them how much he enjoyed it and what he learned.

Exploring with kids through nature is such a rich and exciting experience. By having them focus on identifying sounds not only heightens their sense of awareness but quickly leads them to connecting visually, engaging their other senses and deepening their exploration.

Like to do more with sound outside? Check out this idea on Making Outdoor Sounds

Flower Printing Activity – Outdoor Nature Activities for Kids

flower printing activityThis flower printing activity not only teaches children about nature through art but also introduces some basic science concepts in a fun and engaging way.

We are all drawn to flowers. Vibrant colors, beautiful scents and sometimes intricate patterns in the blossoms and leaves. Children especially want to reach out and touch flowers, check out what they are like, exploring texture and getting their noses in there to see what they smell like. How often have you seen a child bent over sniffing a flower? (You can picture it right now can’t you?)

Flower printing is a way to deepen this experience for the child and allow them to learn and explore even more with their senses while adding art, creativity and imagination.

flower printing activityWhen I introduced this activity to my kids, my daughter was very excited about it (she’s my artsy one), while my son wasn’t so sure about it. But it did not take long before he became engaged, creating with colors and experimenting with designs.

I made sure that I had a variety of colors, even going out and buying some cool neon paints in addition to the basic colors. I also made sure that I had a variety of textures and shapes of flowers for them to try. I had purchased an inexpensive bouquet of flowers but you could use blossoms from your garden or even some of the natural flowers in your backyard. (I had pulled some dandelions and toad flax from our driveway as additional options). I would discourage going out and picking wildflowers for this project as one of the important things when teaching children about nature is that it is also important to preserve it. Appreciate it, take a picture, but leave it for others to enjoy (explain to the children that if they pick wildflowers they may not grow back and then others cannot see them anymore).

We used big poster paper for our flower printing but you may also use a regular size piece of paper to create your project. The nice thing about art is the sky is the limit when creating!

When we were finished we ended up with two very different pictures, both beautiful, unique and something they can be proud of.

Flower Printing Activity

flower printing activityWhat you will need:

white paper or poster board

tempera paint – variety of colors

blossoms (variety of shapes and sizes), leaves and stems of flowers

paint brush

pallet for paints (we used a large piece of cardboard, but small paper plates also work – you want the paint on something that is large enough that you can dip the flower in flat)

  1. Cut blossom off flower
  2. Dip in paint color of choice *you do not need a lot of paint on the blossom just enough to cover it
  3. ‘Stamp’ the blossom onto your paper, press down gently and lift – you will be able to stamp with the blossom to make more than one print before you need to dip it in the paint again *tell the kids to press gently, if they press too hard their flower will break
  4. If you’d like to choose a different color paint, take a new blossom and dip it in the paint, repeating above process.
  5. Once you have ‘printed’ all your blossoms, you can then add stems and leaves if you like. You may do this two ways, one is to simply paint them in with a brush. The second is to put paint on the stem or leaf and then press it onto the paper in the spot you want it like you did with the blossom. Do this as many times as desired.

flower printing activityThe other thing I love about this flower printing activity is the many learning benefits and basic science concepts that children are introduced to by doing it. It enhances eye and hand coordination, fine motor skills, introduces them to scientific concepts such as observing, communicating, experimenting, patterning, and investigating. Not to mention the sensory engagement! Plus it is fun! I did this activity again with one of my preschool classes and it was amazing to see the variety in their creations and how engaged they became. Not one flower print was the same and they were all beautiful.

Exploring the Colors of Nature – Outdoor Nature Activities for Kids

colors of nature activityKids love colors. They naturally love exploring, hunting, seeking and discovering. By using this colors of nature activity you can help them discover all the colors and beauty in nature and that you can find them in the most unexpected and unique places.

Have you ever looked outside and wondered at all the colors of nature? The beauty of a field of wildflowers, purple, red, yellow; the wonder of the sunset, pink, orange and gold. Nature is full of color. From lush greens to deep purples and vibrant blues, they are all there, every color waiting to be found. This is one of the wonders and beauty of nature, that you can find every color possible there, every color if you look (because sometimes they are not that obvious).

In nature there is color in everything. No matter where you look there are different hues of blues, greys, greens and reds. You can find pinks tucked into rocks and oranges along the sea beds. You just have to look.

colors of nature activityFor many when we look outside we notice what we see the most of – the green trees, the blue sky, the yellow sun. But what if we were to look a little closer? What if we looked closer and noticed that the sun had spots of orange in it or a purple hue around the outer edge. Those colors are there but may not be obvious to us unless we are asked to look. And when we do, we often make the most unique discovery! Surprised to find it there.

Children love exploring and searching. They are like sponges waiting for water to soak up. They too see the obvious when they first step outside, but this colors of nature activity will not only teach them to look beyond the obvious, it will show them that all colors are everywhere in the natural world if they look a little closer and a little deeper.

Colors of Nature Activity

The thing I love most about this activity is the simplicity of it. How easy it is to put together and do with kids. All you need is a flip chart size piece of paper and some crayons.

  • Draw a color chart on a large piece of paper (flip chart size works well). Divide the paper into 9 equal squares. In each corner of the square choose a color and color that corner, say pink. That square now represents pink items. Do the same with the rest of the squares choosing different colors. I like to choose some colors that I know will be easy, like green and brown, and start with those in the activity. This creates success for the kids. Then when you get to colors that are not as abundant they are already engaged and willing to look.
  • colors in natureGather the kids around the color chart (which I lay on the ground) and briefly talk about the different colors in nature and how you can find them everywhere. Ask the kids questions about where they see colors in nature as examples.
  • Do one color at a time. Start with a super easy color (this will depend on your location, green might be abundant in the forest but may not be at the beach). Ask them to go find natural items that are that color and bring them back. Remind them to only pick up things that they find on the ground and not pick live things or take leaves off trees.
  • Have everyone place the items they found on the color square. Then take a moment to have everyone look and see the different things that were found. Point out the unique ones and discuss other things that are that color in nature that they may not have found in their area or weren’t able to pick.
  • Repeat with the next color. Mix it up with colors that might be harder to find, with those that are easier. This creates a feeling of success for the kids and keeps them interested in the activity.
  • Continue until your color chart is full! Then take a look at your wonderful natural color pallet.

When I did this with my kids it was amazing what we found. In a soccer field, we found oranges and pinks, purples and blues. And it kept the kids engaged for 30 minutes and probably could have continued on for longer.colors of nature activity

Not only did this activity allow them to explore and learn about their environment but it demonstrated that if you look close enough you can find many colors even in a soccer field. Plus it allowed them a little freedom in expanding their space, boundaries, and their exploration. It was empowering for them.

Then on our walk back we were all looking for (and finding) more colors, mostly the ones that we found less items for, and got quite excited about it.

This activity can be done anywhere. And even if you don’t have a color chart you can pick colors for kids to go and find, though the visual matching is nice when you can do it and enhances their sensory learning even more.colors of nature activity

*The color chart works great with kids of all ages and works especially well with younger children. With older kids you can use paint chips and give each child one to take with them on their exploration to go and match it to something. This again expands their boundaries but also allows them to take the color to the item to actually match it and they don’t need to pick it and bring it back. 

Building a Nature City – Outdoor Activities for Kids

outdoor sensory activitiesOne of the many benefits of outdoor nature activities is that they engage all five senses in children’s learning. Outdoor sensory activities like touching sticks, smelling the flowers, hearing the birds, seeing the grasshoppers, even tasting the dandelions!

Children (and adults) learn best and retain the most when they engage their senses. And an outdoor environment is one of the best places to do this! There is a plethora of sights, sounds and tactile experiences in nature, and a lot of times we are experiencing this without even thinking about it. Children just naturally gather sticks, rocks and flowers. They can’t help but be drawn to pick them up. How many times have you told your child to put that stick down or drop those rocks?

In this activity we are actually going to encourage children to pick up natural items and then take their exploration a bit further by creating a city with them.

Building a Nature City – An Outdoor Sensory Activityoutdoor sensory activities

You will need:

buckets

playdough (homemade or from the store)

flat bottom boxes

natural items (to be collected)

The first thing I did to get ready for this activity was make natural herbal playdough the day before. I found this recipe on The Imagination Tree and loved not only the idea of adding the herbs, which provide such a wonderful smell, but the use of real lemon juice in place of cream of tartar. Though I did this myself without the kids, you could easily make this into another activity with the kids (another great outdoor sensory activity) prior to building your nature city. Of course you can use regular playdough as well if you do not wish to make your own.outdoor sensory activities

Briefly explain what you are going to do – gather items, use the playdough, build city with items in your box. Then begin…

  1. outdoor sensory activitiesGive the child a bucket to hold their nature items in, then go out together and gather items. Encourage them to gather a variety of things and only pick up items that are already on the ground. We want to instill in them that pulling live leaves off or breaking branches can hurt the tree, or picking the flowers (with the exception of dandelions) can prevent them from growing again.
  2. Once they have gathered their items return to a spot outdoors where they can have a ‘work space.’ This should be a flat space, like the deck or concrete patio. You could even set up a large piece of cardboard or wood to create an area for them to work.
  3. Give the child a flat box bottom to build their city in. I searched around our house and found that gift boxes work well. You want one where the sides are not too high and the bottom is fairly sturdy. Ideally if you have one of those cardboard trays from your local garden center these work best.
  4. Let them take the amount of playdough they want to create the base of their city in their box. They use the playdough to stick their nature items in to build their city. (I left the bag of playdough there for the kids to take as they needed).
  5. Taking the natural items they collected have them build and create whatever city they have imagined and see the results.

outdoor sensory activitiesWhen I did this with my children they were super excited and engaged in ‘building’ for quite some time. Both were very focused on their cities and they modified and added to them as they went. Luke started out with something very simple but then saw Chloe make a tee pee and decided he needed one of his own. They were at it for a good 20 minutes or more and this was in addition to the time we had already spent collecting our natural items.

Both of their cities turned out very well and were quite creative and unique! They really enjoyed it, especially Luke who actually thanked me the next day for doing that with them because “I really enjoyed it,” he said. I thought that was pretty cool.

Sensory play and exploration is an important part of a child’s development as children learn through their environments. Sensory play stimulates the brain and helps them develop and refine the use of their senses, which is super important for all types of learning! This outdoor sensory activity allows kids to engage all of their senses by touching the natural items (are they rough, smooth, sticky), smelling them as they are working, seeing the different colors and breathing in that good old fresh air while they are creating! They’ll likely discover bugs while they’re out there or notice/ hear a bird fly by. They may even taste the playdough, (which was all natural with herbs) like my daughter did. We always were a family who likes the full experience.

Regardless of what your child’s experience with this activity they will definitely get something out of it. Whether it be the texture of the sticks, enjoying the sounds, they will be engaged, creative and using their imagination while reaping the benefits of a full sensory learning experience!

outdoor sensory activitiesAnd don’t forget to take pictures of their creations once they are done, as they will truly be works of art.

Next week we discover all the colors of nature through this easy do anywhere activity.