How do we get our kids to love playing in the dirt and gardening? It takes a lot of work and time in the garden. Being out there in the garden will, in time, give them a feel for the garden but in the end they may never love the garden the way we do. We all hope to pass this wonderful experience called gardening to our children and some will learn to love the garden but others will never, no matter what we do, love to be out with their fingers in the dirt.
The first thing kids need to do is spend time exploring the garden. They need to get right in there and touch the flowers, feel the leaves, and look for bugs. They might trample a few plants here and there but the time you spend there will be the most amazing thing for them. Children need to explore everything in their world; this is how they learn about the world around them. If they are allowed to be in the garden and explore, in time they will want to take care of the plants they have learned to love.
Once they want to help in the garden, let them! If they don’t get it right the first time, leave it! You can go back in a hour or so and fix the problem but don’t fix it right then and there. The next time they try it, help them do it and show them in positive ways how to fix the problem from last time. This will help them learn. Be negative about something like garden work and they will connect the two of them (the quality of the work they did and the joy of the flowers) in their head….and you will have lost the battle already. Children, on the whole, only want to do things they are good at or feel like they can do well. When they feel they can do gardening well, they will want to do it on their own.
After your children think they can do it and want to help you in the garden, it is time for them to branch out on their own. This needs to be an area that can be seen from the back door. Yep, right in the middle of everything. For kids to really be out there and want to garden, you have to make their garden important to them. They need to be the ones to pick out what to grow, within reason. Budgets are good for kids to live within but also learning about shade vs. sun and all of the wonders of soil will really help them to be able to grow on their own.
Let your children grow just like your plants grow. Give them time and space in the garden. Tend their knowledge with love and caring; mourn the loss of their prized plant or the seeds that never grew. In time, most children will learn to love the garden and love growing things. In the end, growing your child’s love of gardening is a lot like growing a rare plant. Give it what it needs and it will grow---but too much or too little---and it will suffer, or worse, pass over.