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Mom's guide to gardening with toddlers and preschoolers

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

Little hands lots of dirt

Kids love helping, and when it comes to gardening, there are so many ways in which they can do so. Here's what you need to know when gardening with your toddlers and preschoolers

Mom and toddler gardening

When it comes to gardening with kids around, there are two ways to look at it. One is to try to figure out how to garden while keeping the kids from getting mixed up in the work. In that case, you work around them, gardening during naptime or when they are engrossed in play. But the second way to look at it is as a great activity for families to do together. They can be involved, even from a young age, and learn so much through the activity.

Little hands can be such big helps in the garden. And teaching them an appreciation of nature is a great way to enrich their spirits.

Who does it?

So, who is gardening with their kids? Lots of parents. Take Colleen Levine, for instance. The food blogger, who writes Foodie Tots, recently started a fruit and vegetable garden with her four-year-old son. "It didnt take much to get him excited, he was thrilled to get his own kid-sized set of gardening tools. I let him pick four items to plant: he chose carrots, broccoli, strawberries and pumpkins. (He requested a fifth, "cheeseburger plants," but obviously that one didnt work out.)," says Levine.

She allowed him to have his own row in the garden and he's in charge of watering it. "He loves to check and see 'how big is our garden today.' And, to keep him from digging up our seedlings in his enthusiasm to use his tools, I designated a second area in a corner of the yard for him to dig and plant at will," says Levine. She's even writing about the experience on her site.

Picking the fruits of labor

If you choose to plant an edible garden with your kids, it offers more than just learning about how things grow. They learn about how food comes into being ... and can even harvest the results to eat.

Katie Cool, owner of Cool Designs for Landscapes, grew vegetables with her kids when they were little. "When it was close to dinner, I would send them out with my 'salad-spinner' insert and tell them to fill it up with lettuce to make a salad. Sometimes I would help them, but a lot of the times they could handle this themselves. We then just plopped the insert in the spinner, cleaned the lettuce, and made a fresh salad," says Cool.

Choosing age appropriate tasks

What are some good activities for toddlers and preschoolers in the garden? Well, it all starts with a little education from you. You need to explain how to care for a garden and the tasks that need to happen. Also, some do's and don'ts are helpful too (for instance, don't pick veggies unless Mom or Dad say it's okay!). Once that's out of the way, there is so much that kids can do.

Morayea Pindziak, mother of three kids ages 4 and under, says that her kids love gardening. They help with picking flowers, vegetables and herbs; dig holes for plants, spread mulch and water. "My older one will do some weeding. I steer the younger ones away from weeding because they don't usually distinguish between the weeds and the plants we are trying to grow," says Pindziak.

Pint-size tools

The little shovels, rakes and gardening gloves can be so adorable. If you are looking for some for your junior gardeners (and you should! It totally enhances the experience for them to have their own special tools), then check out the gardening section of stores like Target and Lowe's for some inexpensive gear. Some are embossed with their favorite TV characters too.

Looking for something all inclusive? Check out the Deluxe Gardening Set from Chocolate Cake Club ($29.95). It includes a nylon gardening bag, three wood-handled garden tools two plastic flower pots and saucers, a sprayer, a "Gardener in Training" apron and gardening gloves. Intended for kids age five and up, it has everything they need to get started.

More tips on gardening with kids:

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