Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gardening With Kids: Ten Things That Work

It's not quite an "Edible Schoolyard" yet, but we're so lucky that our elementary school has an enclosed courtyard garden, greenhouse, pond and outdoor classroom space. For the past few years, I’ve been on the committee that helps maintain the courtyard, assists classes with planting projects, and teaches a gardening enrichment class after school.  We've found that some things work better than others.  I'd love to hear your tips, too!

1) Mass sowing.
Nothing is worse than coming back to school after a weekend away to see that all the seeds have sprouted in their individual pots except for little Isabelle’s. Don’t be afraid to sow extra seeds in each pot –they can always be thinned later. And just to be safe, plant a few extra pots. You may want to wait to have kids decorate or label them with their names until you know for sure that everyone has a plant to mark.
2) Big seeds.
When planting with a big group of kids, it’s much easier and less time consuming to dole out big seeds. With the tiny ones, they’re easier to drop, and easier to lose. That means sooner or later someone will be saying “He got three seeds and I only got two!” Then everyone with two will want three and you spend half the period handing out seeds. Stick to big seeds and give everyone the same number.

3) Teachers getting dirty.
Not all teachers are experienced or enthusiastic gardeners, but those who get out there and get their hands dirty with the kids send a powerful message: that they’re willing to try something new, experience the ups and downs along with their class, and share in their victories.

4) Worms.
Kids who have no interest in growing plants suddenly become totally engaged when worms are involved. A bucket of worms never fails to attract an audience – even if they’re all saying “Eeeewwwwww….”

5) Hand to mouth.

It’s wonderful to see kids eating fresh vegetables that they’ve grown themselves. One way to encourage this is to plant crops that they can harvest and eat right away – no cutting, no cooking. If you’re growing organic maybe you can get away without washing them. My favorite crops to do this with are berries, sugar snap peas, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, asparagus and figs. You can bring a bucket of water for rinsing on the spot, and try radishes and carrots, too. Why not nibble an edible flower, like a marigold or pansy while you’re at it?

6) Recyclables – Our kids had a great time discovering that cilantro can be grown in a familiar yogurt container, nasturtium takes the place of roast chicken, morning glories are living in old juice bottles.

Here’s a link to a project we did last year: starting seeds in old toilet paper rolls.

7) Fast crops.
Just like a watched pot never boils, a watched seed never sprouts. When kids are eagerly waiting to see some green leaves, the quicker they appear, the better. And if you’re gardening in a cold climate like we are, it’s nice to have something that can be harvested before school lets out in late June. Micro-greens and radishes can be harvested in as little as three weeks.  Check out  Wisconsin Fast Plants for ideas and kits.

8) Teepees.
From setting up the poles to planting the seeds, to trellising, kids love creating plant “houses” that they can stand in. Pole beans and morning glories are good plants for teepees.

9) Teenagers.
Over the winter we had some teenagers from our high school’s botany class come over and help our 3rd graders plant. Haven’t you heard? Teenagers are cool, and so is anything they do.

10) Sesame Street
Ask Michelle Obama - she did a guest spot on the show to talk about gardening.  I saw these yesterday in Lowes - I have to confess I haven’t used them. But if I had a preschooler, it’s a safe bet that I’d be buying some.

What works for you when gardening with kids?


Joanne said...

Wow, first I've got to say that you have an amazing elementary school going on there. Kudos to all involved. My daughters have planted their own flower garden each spring since they were tots. One particular favorite they had one year was in a shady spot. We planted impatiens, a magenta color, with the seedlings all set out in the shape of a heart against a white impatien background. They filled in beautifully and we had a living Valentine all summer long.

TALON said...

I love this! What a fantastic program and kudos to everyone involved! When my kids were little they loved spending time in the garden and it's amazing how when they are involved they are so less apt to turn their noses up at things they aren't familiar with. This brought back so many great memories - like the time my youngest son (8 at the time) put a bunch of nasturtium blossoms in the salad for dinner and a friend of his was visiting and thought he'd lost his mind and that my son would be in big trouble. It was so fun to see his friend take a taste and realize it was okay, if a little overkill. Thanks, JGH!

Ronda Laveen said...

I LOVED this post! Kids absolutely love these kinds of projects. That top picture says it full of joy. The plants even look as the girl. Is she your daughter?

Bangchik said...

It is fun to really understand about the whole game of persuasion and encouragement.... We all grew through similar lane...

tut-tut said...

wow! hey, my tomato seeds sprouted, and now have SECONDARY LEAVES!!!

how went the egg show, btw?

tina said...

Best tips I've seen so far. I would add to give them their own plot if able to.

patti said...

My gardening with kids days are over. Like a decade over.

But I live vicariously through you, dear one.

Long may they grow.


JGH said...

Joanne, that year-round valentine sounds amazing! I would love to experiment with geometric patterns in the garden, and I bet the kids would love it too - thanks!

Talon, I love to put flowers in salads and the best part is telling people 'yes it's okay to chomp on that marigold' LOL

Ronda, yep, the girl in the top photo is my oldest.

Bangchik - persuasion is right - but it really is one of the best ways to get kids to eat vegetables.

Tut, congrats on the SECONDARY LEAVES. (it's the little things...)
And yes, the egg show was fun. It airs today if you get a chance to tune in.

Tina, we have only 6 raised beds, but that's enough to give each grade level their own. We were thinking about having some sort of contest to see who can grow the biggest whatever, but some of the beds are shadier, so I'm not sure it would be fair.

Patti, come over anytime :-)

beth - total mom haircut said...

If I ever get around to writing about what I've been doing with my son's nursery school class I'd love to link to this, if that's ok.

And you're totally right - the kids just loved that we were planting our seeds in used egg crates and toilet paper rolls!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Love the use of tp rolls!

Anonymous said...

Hi there!

This is a great post--right up my alley! I love it when the lessons of the garden are simplified like this. I wrote a similiar post "3 reasons to invite your community into your garden" that you might be interested in too.....I'm blogging about school gardens, though from a topical perspective and with a special emphasis on stories that come out of gardens. Thought I'd share!
Keep up the great work! I'll keep checking back!