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Get little ones into planting, growing and harvesting and you’ll set them up with a healthy hobby for life.
Get little ones into planting, growing and harvesting and you’ll set them up with a healthy hobby for life.

 

Play in the dirt

No matter how old you are, spending time outdoors is good for physical and mental wellbeing. And it’s especially important to teach kids how to enjoy ‘green time’ instead of screen time. One of the best ways to connect children with nature and teach them how to care for the planet is in their backyard, through gardening.

Bianca Boman from Mr Fothergill’s highlights their specially crafted collection of seeds called the Little Gardeners range. “Gardening encompasses a lot of topics, from science to life lessons,” she says. “And kids who garden are often less fussy eaters, as they’re more likely to taste what they’ve grown.”

No matter what their age, there is a range of fun activities that will connect kids with the joy of growing.

Young sprouts

Gardening with very young children is about introducing them to textures, smells and sights in the garden. Toddlers generally love to be wherever you are and learn by copying our behaviours. Set them up with childsize gardening tools so they can push their own wheelbarrow and rake leaves alongside you. Equip them with a kids’ watering can or let them loose with the hose. If you’re trying to conserve water, fill up a spray bottle with water instead. They’ll love misting your plants and everything else!

Preschoolers also love digging in the dirt, so a children’s spade will come in handy, too. Show them how to dig for worms and count how many you can find. Let them choose bright flowering annuals, such as pansies, and plant them together.

When sowing from seed, keep in mind the size of the seeds for younger children who are still developing fine motor skills. “Sunflowers, nasturtiums, beans and peas are all large seeded, so they’re easy for little hands to handle,” says Bianca. “They also grow fast and are easy to grow, making them perfect starter plants for kids.”

Landscape architect Jill Rice from Get Outside, who specialises in outdoor play and learning environments for children, suggests making the garden a fun place. “Children love little pathways to explore, or simple, safe water features to play with,” she says. “It’s the little details that are important, to stimulate their creative play. My granddaughters love decorating sand pies with flowers and leaves, and real cakes with edible flowers like nasturtiums and pansies.”

For young children, Jill recommends growing plants that will capture their interest. Lambs ears are great as they are soft and furry to touch, providing sensory experiences. “Our native plants are important too, to bring wildlife into the garden for children to observe – such as Muehlenbeckia for copper butterflies, and Kōwhai for the tūī,” Jill Rice says.

A 5 year old girl wearing a straw hat and gloves holding a green watering can with which she waters her newly planted pepper plant

Growing up

School-age children are ready to take on more serious projects. Give them some agency over what they grow by setting them up with their own planter or a sunny spot in the garden. Create a budget to spend on plants or seeds and let them choose what they’d like to cultivate. Part of gardening is about learning from your failures, but having success will keep them interested.

To keep kids engaged, opt for speedier crops such as radishes, which are ready to harvest in four to six weeks. Some kids find radish a bit peppery tasting so slice them finely when they try them for the first time - maybe challenge them to a taste test! Opt for brightly coloured mixes, like ‘Easter Egg Mix’, which contains pink, red, gold and purple radishes. It will be fun for your junior gardener to guess what colour they’re going to pull up at harvesting time.

If you don’t have a lot of space or you’re looking for activities that can be done on a sunny windowsill, try microgreens. Buy a kit with everything you need, or grow a character with microgreen hair.

Let kids observe the science of germination by holding a seed race. Loosely fill a jar with wet paper towels, then place three or four seeds in the bottom of the jar so they’re evenly spaced and are visible from outside of the jar. Beans and peas are good for this exercise. Use a permanent marker to write the name of the type of seed on the jar, place it in a sunny spot and make sure the paper towel doesn’t dry out. It won’t be long before you can see the shoots emerging from the seeds and growing upwards towards the light. Kids can keep a growing journal and take note of how many days each seed takes to germinate and compare their progress.

A mother planting, watering and tending flowers and herbs with her little son in her raised bed wearing garden gloves and holding a small blue rake and shovel

Branching out

Older tamariki tend to become more discerning about their interests and tastes, and often like collecting things. This is an opportune time to encourage them to follow their interests in the garden. Maybe they want to start a cactus or succulent collection? Succulents are easy to grow and readily produce offshoots that are simple to separate and repot. Or perhaps they enjoy cooking, so a pizza garden with herbs like oregano and basil, and tomatoes and courgettes in summer, is perfect.

“Growing edibles helps kids to understand where food comes from and that it is valuable,” says Bianca Boman. Encourage older children to be involved in the entire process from plot to plate by asking them about what they’d like to eat, then they can grow their own produce and cook some of the ingredients.

Continue to nurture an interest in looking after the natural world by encouraging kids to make bug hotels or a pollinator pond, so visiting bees have water to drink.

They’ll also start to become aware about the economics of gardening. Show them how to take root cuttings and propagate house plants that they can sell online or at local markets.

Sharing surplus homegrown kai is a great way to teach kids ways to support their community. If you have excess produce from the vege garden or fruit trees, set the kids a task of harvesting them so you can drop them off to a local pātaka kai (pantry) or share them with neighbours.

Set up for success

Most vegetables and flowers require at least six hours of full sun each day, so make sure you provide kids a sunny spot to set up their patch. Before gardening, enrich the soil with compost, garden mix and sheep pellets so plants have a healthy start. Get kids into the habit of watering their plants – set a timer on a phone if you struggle to remember. They can water the rest of the garden as well! Plants like potatoes and strawberries need a few months before they’re ready to harvest. Keep children interested with fast-growing crops such as lettuces or microgreens. For instant gratification, plant potted colour or flowering seedlings with younger kids. This might prevent them from losing interest while waiting for seeds to germinate.

Is it edible?

Always discourage young children from eating plants unless guided by an adult, and check plant labels for potential hazard warnings. Manaaki Whenua (Landcare Research) has published lists of plants that should not be grown in early childhood centres, and therefore also avoided in residential gardens where there are very young children. To find out more, visit landcareresearch.co.nz and search for ‘poisonous plants’.

Looking for more ways to engage your kids?

Discover what kids activities are on at your local Bunnings store.

 

Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.