a preschooler's garden

Designing a garden plot with your young child in mind

Balancing the time demands of garden maintenance with parenting can be difficult. Certainly, a new baby can sleep contentedly under a shady tree while the weeding gets done and, for as long as naps remain part of the daily routine, some amount of work can be accomplished throughout toddlerhood. At around age three or four, however, when a child begins to demonstrate more endurance throughout the day, some careful planning on your part can help facilitate the needs of your child alongside the needs of your carrots. 

If your child has turned two over the winter it is likely that you will see some very significant behavioral developments by next summer, for instance. Knowing what to expect well before you encounter it can help to shape how your plot is organized, which plants to choose and why it is important to take all factors into account for the sake of a successful season. Did you know…...

From two and a half until approximately six years old:

A child takes in an inordinate amount of information through the sensesPlan to provide stimulation for the nose and the hands as well as for the eyes and the tastebuds. Fragrant herbs can be a good choice as many release their scent when touched and, of course, they are edible as well as pretty. Many herbs feature in children’s stories, songs or rhymes, which provides you with an instant means of creating connections for your little one. Garden herbs can also be trimmed with a child-sized scissors, which is a skill that all preschool-aged children should be practicing, and many last into the fall when they can be taken indoors and nurtured in pots. 

From two and a half until approximately six years old:

A child’s natural tendency is to moveThis includes digging holes with sticks or trowels. It may be helpful to leave a corner of your garden free for excavation while you attend to the plants. Yes, this means a potentially smaller area for planting, but it does provide a safe place for you both to work alongside each other. The child’s play is his/her work, in which he/she needs to refine all the muscles of the body through movement of all kinds. A preschooler might be interested in the idea of helping a parent pull weeds but will be equally if not more interested in making holes, mixing mud and jumping in puddles just for the sheer process involved in doing so. This is healthy, normal, and requires lots of old clothes that can take the wear and tear.

From two and a half until approximately six years old:

A child is attracted to tiny objectsA garden is a wonderful place for little treasures of all kinds. Rocks, seeds, insects, leaves, petals, or snails will all provide hours of enjoyment. This curiosity about small items might also explain why your child might pull the petals off some of your daisies, fill both pockets with worms or be tempted to investigate animal droppings. It serves all parties well to develop a strategy for explanation rather than admonition. A trip to the library might uncover a book about the needs of plants or animals. Children of preschool age are far more interested in reality than many adults give them credit for. Understanding their immediate environment better will empower them with a sense of responsibility and stewardship.

Lastly, your preschooler is eager to learn new words. As you work outside together, talk about what you are both doing. Name the seeds you are planting, the tools you are using, the birds you are hearing, the insects you are unearthing and the fragrances you are smelling. A young child will absorb many of these words just by hearing you use them in conversation. Furthermore, the conversation itself will foster emotional connection to a place you love and want to share with your child. Spring is coming. Happy gardening!