Many people ask me how I get anything done in the garden with my kids in tow. The truth is it’s not easy, takes more time and can be stressful. But it’s not impossible and most of the time it’s a lot of fun for all of us.
We came up with a few good strategies for keeping the kids happy, making the garden a place they want to be and saving our precious vegetables from the path of destruction a toddler can cause.
1. Use spare gardening supplies as toys for kids
Your kids are much more likely to stay engaged with something if it relates to what you’re doing. Remember, the really young ones just want to do whatever you are doing. We keep an extra large stash of plant pots in the garden (mostly gathered from the side of the road when people are having a clear out). These things are fabulous for stacking, building and gathering and make a great accessory for imaginary garden picnics, the perfect toy for creative little minds.
2. Mini Gardening Tools
If you can find them and afford them, then kid-sized gardening tools will be a lifesaver. Tools that are the right size make it easier for your kids to help in the garden rather than breaking everything. Having a set of tools for gardening allows them to feel involved and that they can take ownership of some of the work, yes even for 12-month old kids. What’s more, it leaves your tools free for you to use when you need them and stops any tantrums that are inevitable when you need your gloves or trowel and your toddler is deeply engrossed in their own task that requires the tools.
3. Build a Garden for Your Toddler to Play
The best thing we ever did for our garden was to build a raised garden bed for our toddler. She helped to gather the compost and build up the sides with stones, having the bed raised stopped her from trampling everything. We gave her old seeds we had too many of and she planted everything herself. Of course, it was wild with everything planted in one place and she drowned it and destroyed it and planted it again but the plants did amazingly well and she loved everything about it. It kept her away from our precious veggies while giving her the sense that she was totally involved with the gardening process and allowed her to care for and start to understand the plants better.
4. Water Play for Toddlers in the Garden
Nothing beats water for keeping your little ones entertained in the garden. If you’re growing veg you most likely have a water source nearby, so grab a bucket and fill ‘er up! Your kids will play for hours in the water and inevitable mud so dress them for the mess and let them enjoy. While they’re busy pouring and splashing you can get your seeds planted and tend to all those delicious garden veggies.
5. Get Your Toddler Gardening
Toddlers love gardening and even if you follow all the ideas above you’ll never keep them away from your tomato plants 100% of the time. Let them get involved, make sure you have mentally prepared for everything to take a lot longer and ensure you have set your mental state to ‘extra patient’. Toddlers learn surprisingly quickly and if you’re interested in something, they are too. Our daughter could spot a weed a mile away and we only lost actual vegetable plants during the first few weeks of really letting her get involved. She enjoyed asking us which plants to pull and talking about what the others would grow into. With the experience gained from her very own garden bed she thrived in our veggie patch and surprisingly so did the plants.
6. Fresh Homegrown Veggies for Toddlers
One of the nicest things about gardening with kids is that there are healthy snacks all around you. In early summer our breakfast is nearly always peas fresh off the vine. Let your little one harvest and eat the veg they want. They will need quite a bit of direction at first in order to pick the fruit without pulling up the plant and to understand that they need to take the ripe fruit and veg. This is hard for a one-year-old but very soon get’s easier, by two they understand that the best tomatoes are the red ones and they’re much more careful about harvesting their snacks.