Green thumb or not, gardening with kids typically combines healthy physical activity with learn-by-doing opportunities, says Evelyn Neier, coordinator of Kansas' Junior Master Gardener Program.
Children can learn from parents, grandparents, or neighbors who are avid gardeners and even from each other, Neier shares. And, if gardening is a new interest for the family, learning together can bring a family together.
Getting the whole family involved in gardening
Start slow, though, said the horticulturist, who also is a K-State Research and Extension 4-H youth development specialist.
Taking children to a garden supply store can spark their interest, but allow plenty of time to look at seed packets, bedding or starter plants, and garden paraphernalia, she says.
Such a shopping trip can prompt plans to expand the family garden, but Neier advises "Bigger is not necessarily better. Start small, to keep the garden manageable -- and fun, rather than a chore."
A small garden or even container gardening will typically allow opportunities to try new plants and seeds, yet not consume all of a family's free time.
"Kids can get pretty excited about picking out colorful packets of flower and vegetable seeds," says Neier, who suggests that parents with small children choose fast-growing spring crops -- lettuce and radishes are examples -- so children can watch early progress in the garden.
She also recommends cherry or grape tomato plants, which typically produce bumper crops of small fruit that is easy for children to harvest.
Planting melons, squash and pumpkins is fun, too, but the promise of late summer and fall harvests may not hold a child's interest as easily as some early crops, she says.
Planting flowers, such as daisies or zinnias that grow throughout the summer and are easily cut for summer bouquets, can brighten the family home and offer opportunities for children to share part of their garden with friends, neighbors or grandparents.
Keeping a garden journal or notebook, with seed packets, a picture or two, planting dates and other comments such as a notation about the first harvest, also may bring the family together around the kitchen table and create a useful reference as well as a memory book.
Celebrating the first harvest -- a salad with homegrown lettuce or early tomatoes - also can make a meal an event, Neier says.
Gardening together can bring the family together, she says. And, while some chores are more fun than others, children may view them as more of a treat if they get to stay up a little late to weed or are appointed superintendent of watering on a rotating basis.
Information on Kansas'Junior Master Gardener Program is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices or on the Kansas 4-H Web site: www.kansas4h.org, and click on "Programs" and again on Junior Master Gardeners.