Gardening: Planting with Littles

My husband gets really annoyed when he's driving. People here are OBNOXIOUS drivers, to begin with, then add a distracting cell phone to the mix. It's easy to get aggravated because the same lady who just cut you off so she could be one car further up in line at the stop light is now holding up everyone behind her at a now green light because she's looking down at her phone. Ugh. When we're out on the weekend as a family, I find myself constantly reminding my husband to relax, we aren't in a hurry, the whole point of this trip is to spend happy time together. This is the same thing I'm advising you to repeat to yourself (out loud if needed) when you garden with your littles. Honestly, it's good to remember when doing any activity with them. 

So, relax.
You aren't in a hurry. (If you are, reflect on that and make adjustments to the plan.)
The whole point is to spend happy time together.

Prepare the environment.

We all know how easy it is for a "fun activity" to turn into a toddler nightmare if we aren't prepared. Gardening is no different. Decide what level of involvement you want your kids to have, and get it set up.

I ran through the steps in my mind. Dig hole, pour in fertilizer, remove plant from container, put plant in hole, fill in dirt, water. Then I gathered everything needed for these steps. 

The dirt in my pink bed is extremely hard, and the purple bed is full of ants. For these reasons, I chose to pre-dig the holes this time.

I got the bag of fertilizer from the garage and grabbed a cup for scooping. Everett knows how to take the plants out of the little pots (grab the base of the stem, turn upside down, press the bottom of the pot) so I left them for him to do. If this is your child's first time you may want to take them out of the containers first so the fragile plants don't get ripped apart. Been there, done that. There was plenty of loose dirt to fill the holes from when I dug them, so I just set out a few of his hand tools. I turned on the water hose and set it to a gentle shower spray. Everything ready.

The younger the child, the more important this step is. If I had gotten him out there but had to run back in to get the fertilizer, there would have been a disaster when I came back out. He probably would have filled the holes back in for me. Having a prepared environment helps me to focus on the next step.
Take it slow, and give clear directions. 

This isn't work, this is fun! It's also a privilege, not a chore. Mine is still little enough that everything is fun, but if your's are going to think it's work you will want to come in with a this is going to be so fun tone. You want them to want to be out there.

I find it easiest to do all of one job at once so he can focus and not worry about steps. It gives him the independence to follow my one direction instead of looking at me when he forgets what to do next.

"Okay Everett, first we're going to put food in the holes for the plants. There's a cup in the bag of fertilizer. Put one scoop in each hole." (You'll notice I did rows instead of holes in some of the pictures. I left the plants where I wanted the fertilizer, so he just picked them up and put the fertilizer where they were. It was the best way to mark the spot.)

"Thank you for giving them food. Now let's take them out of there pots and move them to their new homes so they can eat. This is how I want you to take them from the pots." Demonstrate, even though I know he has done it right before. I'd rather show him once than have to correct him. Being corrected is never fun. (Note my wording. Plants are alive. They need food and water and fresh air and sunshine. They also need little hands to know they are alive because then the this isn't how we treat people rule applies in their minds. Everett has heard many times that he has to be kind to our plants, we don't hurt our plants, etc.

I gave no directions for the next step. He did it as he put them in the holes. He did pause on the first one and look at me to make sure it was okay, and I gave him a nod. It warmed my heart to see him on autopilot in there.
Toddlers can be quite vigorous with the water hose, so unless he asks to do it I usually wait until he's moved on to playing. If he moves completely out of the garden I turn on the sprinkler instead. Less work.

Manage your expectations and be flexible.

If I had to pick one piece of advice for new parents, it would be that.^ But we're just talking about gardening here.

So, what are your expectations here? Perfection? Hopefully not. My expectation is to go through the motions of planting so he will slowly learn to do it without instruction. And I expect to have fun, otherwise what's the point?

When we planted our lettuce, Everett came outside with a popsicle in hand. (His dad gave it to him.) He was not interested in me holding his pop while he gardened, so I just went with it. The worst thing that could happen was getting a little dirt on it. No reason to make a fuss. He planted a few, and then decided he would rather eat his pop. We rinsed it off and went about our day.
If you haven't noticed, these pictures take place at three different times. I broke it up into smaller segments so I could keep his attention.

We were going to plant the cauliflower right after the okra, but he decided to play with the water hose instead. It was drizzling outside so the ground was already a little muddy, and that was just more interesting to him. Fine by me. He was learning something equally important from that mud.
I can't remember where I read this quote or who said it (Magda Gerber maybe?), but it's very fitting.

"Don't let what you're trying to teach get in the way of what they are trying to learn."

There are a lot of important lessons in the garden. Planting is just one of them.
If you'd like to read more about our garden, just click this image.
I'd love to hear about your experiences gardening with your kids! Any tips for me?

Monthly Updates on Our Backyard Garden:
2016: FIRST / March / April / May / June / July & August / September / October November / December
2017: January / February / March / April / May / June / July / August / September / October / November / December

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Be kind. I'm just a mom behind a computer wearing yoga pants with unwashed hair. -k