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!

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. 

Seeking and Sorting – Outdoor Nature Activities for Kids

outdoor nature activities for kidsChildren naturally love to be outside. Running, jumping, playing, climbing are all elements of outdoor play. We should not underestimate the value of outdoor nature activities for kids  and playing outside as it has many benefits.

Children who spend more time outside learn to appreciate and care for nature. Their natural curiosity encourages them to explore and learn in ways that we may not even realize. They develop physical and gross motor skills, burn calories, get their Vitamin D and contribute to their aesthetic learning as well. Think of all the colors, sights and sounds out there engaging the senses – from bird song to the feeling of bark under their hands or mud squished through their fingers. These activities are all contributing to the development and growth of your child.

outdoor nature activities for kidsThough free unstructured play in the outdoors definitely has it’s place and benefit, you can enhance your child’s learning experience by doing simple and exploratory outdoor nature activities with them. Deepening their appreciation of nature, teaching them basic skills/ concepts as well as growing their curiosity. Outdoor nature activities for kids can introduce them to something they may not have thought of before or learn about something that they may just take for granted. For instance, the feeling of the bark of a tree – some are rough, some are smooth, while others have a powdery substance on them. Then this can lead them to asking why? why are the barks different? Or looking at and finding all the different colors there are in nature – there is not just green and brown, exploring a little through different activities can show them the many colors of nature and where to look for them.

outdoor nature activities for kidsOver the next 6 weeks, we will explore different outdoor nature activities for children, featuring one activity each week; their benefits and how easy they are to do. You do not need a lot of equipment, just curiosity and a sense of fun and exploration. Depending on the age of the children, will depend on how deep you take their exploration. I find the best is to start simple and then take cues from the child as to where to go with it next and how long to spend on it. Something that might keep one child engaged for 20 minutes, might only engage another for 2. That’s ok, length of time is not important – it is the experience and what they get out of it. Besides the child who is engaged for less time might find another activity of more interest to them and spend longer with that one.

Seeking and Sorting

Children naturally love to collect stuff. They often run outside and collect dandelions, rocks, leaves, etc. This activity uses this concept to start to grow their appreciation as well as some basic math and counting concepts. You can easily do this with a group of children as young as 2 years old or one on one.

  1. outdoor nature activities for kidsGather the children into a circle and show them what it is you want them to collect. Depending on the age of the kids I may ask them to find a specific number or simply to collect as many as they can. For instance, I hold up a dandelion and ask them what it is. If they do not know then I tell them.
  2. Once they have identified what it is I ask them to go and collect 3 of these and bring them back and put them into a pile in the middle. Once they have done that, I will move on to the next item, say a stick. I emphasize that they are only to take sticks from the ground, as we want the ones that are attached to keep growing. I will ask them to collect 4 and bring them back and place it in the pile. Depending on the age group will depend on how many items we go seeking. With preschoolers I usually choose 2-3 items.
  3. Once we have a great big pile, we may pretend it’s a campfire and sing a campfire song. Or I tell them one interesting fact about the items they’ve collected, like pine cones hold the seeds for the new trees.
  4. Then I will get them to sort them into 3 piles, all the dandelions in one, all the sticks in one and all the pine cones in another. Kids not only love to collect, they also love to sort! Sorting activities for children teaches them how to organize, how to determine alike and different as well as beginning math skills.

outdoor nature activities for kidsThe great thing about this activity is it provides the foundation for other activities that you can now use the items you’ve collected to do. Activities like Woodland People, Building a Nature City and Nature Collages all utilize the items you’ve collected and bring in a little creativity and imagination.

Try out this Seeking and Sorting Activity this week and share in the comments below how it went and what favorite things you found!

Next week we’ll build upon this activity by Building a Nature City, that uses what we’ve collected.