Vegetables for Fun: 10 Tips for a Successful Urban Garden Program for Kids

My goal in working with children’s garden programs is to open their eyes to a world within the outdoor classroom space that is filled with flowers and try to make the experience an event they will remember for a long time.

When working with an urban gardening program for elementary school-age children, it is important to understand what will make a successful children’s gardening program. First you have to realize that a child’s gardening goals differ from those of adults. Middle and high school garden programs differ from those for younger children in the methods and curricula presented. The main objective of children in gardening is discovery and experimentation. In other words, they don’t measure success by the quantity or quality of a harvest; it is the reward of experiencing the process. Children will use all five senses to explore and discover the garden environment. Gardening for kids will not only stimulate their senses, but create a lifelong connection to nature, healthier choices, and caring for our environment. Children are curious about the wonders of nature; they like to learn by doing and will love playing in a garden designed with them in mind. A children’s garden program should be presented and planned as a fun learning activity surrounded by a world of discovery. Whether you’re working with one child or a dozen, you’ll find these tips helpful in customizing your gardening program.

As mentioned above, children’s interest in gardening is different from that of adults. Adult aspiration in horticulture falls into three categories, all based on the ‘green thumb factor’ which they are; a sustainable source of fresh products, the economic factor, health and organic nutrition. These three objectives can be incorporated into a curriculum for a balanced children’s gardening program. When presenting a gardening curriculum, it works best when presented as “teachable moments.”

  1. Define the objectives to form this club of young gardeners. Will it be a place for quiet meditation, teaching science, setting up a farmers market, or a place for healthy eating? Knowing this will help you decide the type of garden setting to create, such as native plant, heirloom, organic, herbal, or display.
  2. Trust the Experts Borrow gardening rules, tips and techniques from a successful community garden program in your area. The most successful community-type gardens have the support of a group of involved people. This is the time to gather a group of like-minded teachers and helpers from your circle of influence. Local master gardeners, farm offices, botanic and organic garden organizations, and nurseries can provide guidance and support.
  3. Give children their own space in the garden for the ownership principle. This will give children a sense of ‘ownership’ of a family space and encourage commitment and responsibility to the garden project. Whether you use raised beds, repurposed containers or a traditional plot of land, be sure to give the kids their own separate garden space and encourage them to get their hands dirty.
  4. Make the garden appealing to the senses, colorful flowers add to the picture; aromatic crops that attract the nose, as well as products that can be eaten on the vine. It would also be great to include some edible flowers for color and herbs for fragrance. To get off to a good start, plant easy-to-grow vegetables like cucumbers, kale, zucchini, lettuce, beans, peas, summer squash, bell peppers, and Swiss chard, all of which are easy to grow.
  5. Set young gardeners up for success with the best soil and light conditions available. This is part of the planning strategy. In urban environments it is common to find situations such as poor soil conditions; polluting, gardening in irregularly shaped areas surrounded by asphalt or concrete. Remember that most gardens require at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day. Easy access to water is also helpful. Don’t be discouraged if your garden site has too many obstacles, it’s possibly a sign that you should consider container gardening.
  6. Start the garden from seed. Children will learn more by watching the growth process as it begins. This is an important part of the discovery process; they will notice the root system and make their own observations about plant development and life cycles. The care that is given to seed germination and young seedling care is a valuable part of the gardening experience. Also, the seeds will develop into healthier plants if started indoors in a warm room. Once the true leaves have sprouted, they can be transplanted into the garden bed depending on the growing season.
  7. You may need to help ‘behind the scenes,’ ‘cheat a little’. They don’t have to know about every little problem you’ve fixed. You may need to leave before or after your program session to remove slugs and insects from your vegetables. Patrol regularly for pests, but do not use pesticides. Children should not be exposed to toxins. Instead, get rid of the bugs by flushing them with water. Change some plants that were severely damaged due to mishandling; replace seeds in beds that were planted incorrectly. That children feel a sense of ownership in the plot is the main thing. A good result in gardening based solely on the efforts of children is secondary.
  8. Use the allotted time wisely. Have a set start and end time for the sessions. Change up the activity to keep children excited about going to the garden. Garden time for children should be in the cool of the day. Include garden-related activities, games, and crafts in your schedule. Keep in mind that children may not be ready at all times for all garden chores. Not all children may enjoy all garden chores. There are some who will not enjoy the process of planting out in the ground, even those who may be scared of insects. Incorporating garden-themed activities will give your children some much-needed variety. This will ensure that the children look forward to the next sessions and will have a positive impact on behavior.
  9. Garden tools and equipment are a must. When you provide children with tools, you are acknowledging the importance of the work they are doing. Also in the garden tools category, there are many kitchen items that can be repurposed for garden use. Hard plastic kitchen utensils make great garden tools; They can be used as a shovel or spade. We use drinking water bottles for watering containers. If necessary, allow them to use their hand tools under close supervision. Cheap plastic garden tool uses are worse than no tools at all; they break easily and will discourage any user.
  10. Involve them throughout the entire process, from seed to table. The garden is a place for teaching moments with children. Children learn best when they understand the context of their activity. They will learn that gardening is a fun activity, a place to make friends, as well as a place to contribute to the community. Gardening gives children the opportunity to learn an important life skill, one that is overlooked in standard school curricula. Gardening is also a great way to teach environmental awareness by exploring how nature works. Environmental Science Plant life cycles and seed germination are easily taught in the outdoor classroom. So are math, creative writing, reading, social studies, nutrition, observation, and fine arts. In addition to planting and nurturing your garden beds, make sure they are an active part in harvesting and preparing your vegetables for the table, no matter how modest the crop yield.

A children’s vegetable garden will open their minds to a ‘world class’ learning experience about plants and flowers.

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