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Small children (4 to 10 year olds) want to know ‘the whys’ and ‘how comes’ of everything. Their minds are like little sponges that absorb everything they can take in and process. This is an ideal age for adult gardeners to start teaching children everything there is to know about gardening. Planting a seed of gardening knowledge and respect in a child’s small mind hopefully will, help them bloom into an expert master gardener.
The first and most important thing an adult gardener can do to have a child-friendly garden is to teach a child about gardening is safety. There are many dangers associated with gardening and this should be the number one priority of an adult when passing on gardening knowledge to a child. Gardening tools, with their sharp edges need to be locked up. Just placing them out of reach is not a good option, as children will find things to stand on in order to reach them, such as using that plastic bucket you use in the garden. Adult gardeners need to teach children that these tools are not toys. A good way to introduce small children (under 6 years of age) to gardening tools is by getting them their own set of toy gardening tools, and demonstrating how to use them the proper way in an area of the garden where they can do no damage.
Another safety concern is fertilizers and pesticides, which should also be locked up, even organic brands. Under no circumstances should young children be around or allowed to handle any gardening chemicals. Age 12 or older (depends on the maturity and gardening knowledge of the child) is about the right time to instruct them on the proper use of chemicals, stressing caution, and proper handling techniques.
Small children demonstrate what they see, in that if they see you pick up a tomato from the garden, wipe it off, and take a bite (do not do this), they will too. Small children may not know the difference between an eatable vegetable and plant, and place the wrong thing in their mouths. Instruct children that under no circumstances are they to eat anything from the garden, unless they show it to you first. I somewhat avoid this issue by never planting anything in my garden that might be considered dangerous if touched or swallowed.
With small children around, plants need to be kid-friendly. If possible, avoid adding plants that have thorns or prickly leaves to your garden and make sure children wear adequate footwear in the garden at all times.
What can Children do in the Garden?
Many things. I have mixed feelings about giving a small child their own area for a garden in that if it does not do well, the child will be disappointed. On the opposite side, if the child helps you in your garden, there is a chance that your garden will not do well. I have found the best solution is to give them an end of a row near the edge of a garden that has been made child-friendly. Example – you have three rows of beans. Mark off one to two feet of one row with fabric strips tied to paint sticks, and tell the child this is their area. If the area appears to be not doing well, you can always dig up the plants and move the sticks, and more than likely the small child will not know the sticks have been moved. This may be deceitful, but it does not really hurt anyone.
Small children can also, with the help of an adult, plant seeds, water the garden, and pull weeds. They can pick ripe vegetables, wash them, and even help prepare them for eating.