Nancy Jackson’s tips for gardening with kids

This edition of Garden Clippings features guest blogger Nancy Mann Jackson, a freelance writer who gardens with her husband and two young sons in Florence, Alabama. She blogs about gardening, harvesting, cooking and preserving with kids in tow at

nancy-jackson-blogWhen my husband and I moved to north Alabama, we finally had room to plant the vegetable garden we’d always wanted — but we also had a toddler and another baby on the way. So the normal challenges of learning to grow our own food were multiplied, as we had little kids underfoot and on our hips while we planted, weeded, harvested, cooked and preserved our food.

Almost four years later, we’ve figured out that gardening with kids might be challenging, but it’s also educational and just plain fun. Our kids are more aware of where food comes from, more willing to eat veggies they’ve helped grow themselves, and we’ve had lots of good times playing in the dirt together.

Here are 3 tips for successful gardening with kids:

1.  Blend work and play. Of course gardening is hard work, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for fun and games. There’s a sign hanging in the toddler room at our local children’s museum that says something like, “Creative parents make clean-up as much fun as play.”

The same goes for gardening. Just a little effort can make gardening tasks more fun for kids (and you’ll get the job done a lot quicker with enthusiastic little helpers). For instance, instead of “picking green beans,” say you’re “playing green bean hide-and-seek.” The rules are simple: Carefully look under every leaf. When you find a ripe green bean, grab it and throw it in the bucket!

2.  Give kids a voice. If you want your kids to really get involved in the garden, give them some ownership. That might mean offering each child a special patch of dirt to plant and care for their own favorite fruits, vegetables or flowers, or it could mean simply giving them a chance to help decide which plants the family will grow.

Older children may feel more engaged in the garden if they have a specific job assigned to them, such as watering the tomatoes or weeding every Tuesday. If they can select their own jobs, even better.

3.  Set reasonable expectations. While your kids may be great helpers in the garden, remember that they’re just kids and may not last as long as you do at any given task. Last weekend, my husband wanted the kids to help him pick a row of ripe pinkeye purplehull peas, but before they were halfway down the row, our four-year-old tired of the job and decided he wanted to take a stick to the dried corn stalks on the other side of the garden.

My husband was tempted to force him to finish picking peas before attacking the corn, but he refrained. The corn stalks needed to be mowed down anyway, and the point was to spend time together in the garden, so there was no harm in letting our boy have some fun. Giving kids structure and responsibilities can be good for them, but if you want them to like gardening with you, remember their attention spans can be brief.

I really appreciate Nancy’s approach to gardening with children. She’s realistic in her expectations of what little ones can and can’t do in the garden. I know the seeds she’s planting now will reap big rewards in the future.

Do you have any tips for gardening with children? Please share them here.


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