Having kids has taught me a few things.
First, that my time is not infinite.
Second that napping is glorious.
And thirdly, that kids actually love working.
Now it may sound like I’m busy raising under-indulged little slaves, but truth be told we just do our best to involve them in every aspect of the chores of daily life and it is amazing how much fun and entertainment they find in doing it. Now don’t tell the authorities on us just yet, there is plenty of time for playing too, something I need to do more of myself.
For this month’s piece, with its focus on home growing, I thought I would put a list together of the gardening chores and tasks that complement the addition of little helpers. These are not superficial projects that are meant to entice your child’s attention, but rather are worthwhile and constructive chores that the garden and family as a whole will benefit from.
It is nice to work as a family and in our experience, the more you do together the easier and more productive your family team will become.
One thing to mention before we get on to the list is how important it is to give the kids good tools to use. Any adult knows that doing a task with sub-par tools is challenging. If you supply the child with tools that fit and do as good a job as the ones you use, you will be amazed at what they can accomplish.
Although much loathed by many adults, kids seem to enjoy the act of weeding very much and tend to get the hang of it quite quickly. With a little bit of patience and a tentative eye from an adult a kids can soon be able to differentiate the plants that stay versus the plants that must be pulled. It is really quite something to watch and experience a child learn the difference between a foxglove and burdock. It is amazing how they can spot the details between the two.
This is perfect for the child who loves intricate and finicky things. Start with seeding larger seeds, (fava beans, sunflowers, peas), and then move on to more dainty seeds. Using a plug seeding tray or a partial one can help the child compartmentalize where each seed must go.
The sky is the limit on what to sow and it is always a big hit at our place when we move into the greenhouse and sow some seed. Also broadcast sowing grass seed is another big winner.
Anything physical, such as digging or raking.
Spreading mulch, digging a ditch, incorporating manure, or flipping the compost – all seem to be good chores that entertain the kids.
I have made or bought many kid-sized tools: things such as shovels, and rakes, and a wheelbarrow. They usually start out strong, working fast and furious and quickly tire and find worms to rescue or holes to fill.
The most important thing during this time is we are all working together.
Any work involving sharp blades, cutting, or clipping.
Nothing makes a kid feel more grown up than using an “adult” tool. Resist the urge to banish the child from using a sharp tool (saws, pruners, clippers, and harvesting knives). Instead, show them, under your supervision, how to use the tool properly. It is amazing how unsafe they are at first, and then how safe and skilled they can become with just a little practice.
Pruning shrubs, deadheading, harvesting, are all excellent ways for a kid to hone their skills. Just please keep an eye on them to prevent over zealous deadheading or cutting.
Planting new shrubs is always a welcome job for both my kids. They love taking the new plants out of the pots, and bringing them to the planting location.
It is important to show them the correct depths to plant and also how to anchor them into the soil by pressing your foot at the base of the plant.
Of course the final step is to water them in, and in my experience it is far better to leave that particular task to a more mature human, unless of course you appreciate the mud bath and spray down. Another good alternative is planting spring bulbs.
by Jonathan Van Wittenburg