I remember a story I heard at church many years ago. It was about a man who owned a ranch and had a couple of teenage sons who helped him work it. His hired ranch hand complained to him one day because the sons had messed something up He suggested that they would actually be more productive without his sons “help.” The man’s reply is something my husband and I say to one another often. “I’m not really raising cattle. I’m raising boys.”
I tell this story because a similar principle applies to involving your kids with the garden. I have chosen to have my children “help” me in the garden because I want them to enjoy working in the soil and feel some ownership in the plants that we grow. I know other people who don’t let their kids help in the garden until they are a little older and can actually help. I think both choices are good…it all depends on what you and your children.
So how do my children help out with our garden? Putting aside things that are not really helpful like pulling out the plants or picking green strawberries, there are a number of ways they can feel involved and useful.
My oldest kids are 7 and 5 so they are old enough to be of some actual help. One of their favorite things to do is to help me plant. I will make the hole where I want the seeds to go and they will follow behind me, put the seeds in the hole, and cover them over. Another task they are good at is helping pick. I have taught them that a ripe strawberry is all red and they are great at looking at the whole berry before they pick it. They also really enjoy picking other vegetables and are helpful with some prep tasks like shucking the corn. Once the plants are bigger they do a good job of weeding too. It’s hard for them to tell the plants apart when they are little so it’s better for us to wait until they are easy to tell apart.
My younger kids are 3 and 2. They are less actual help but there are still things they can do to feel involved. The 3 year old can help plant with the older kids and they both enjoy helping me pick by holding my bowl or carrying the produce to the kitchen. They also like to help me water. The 2 year old needs some help getting the hose pointed at the garden rather than other people, but he has a great time.
I really love growing plants and working the ground and I hope to pass that on to my children. I think having them work in our garden is helping me achieve that goal and we share a good time together while we do it. While I would really like to raise some food this summer, ultimately I’m raising kids.