The Garden Can Bring Your Family Closer Together

Spring is around the corner! 

As we begin to thaw out from winter, we start to dream about longer warm nights and sunny days ahead.  And many of us begin planning our gardens.  Spending time planting, tending, and harvesting your vegetables and fruits is educational, rewarding, and fun for every member of the family.  We have compiled a few suggestions on how to enjoy time in the garden from toddler to teen.

Toddlers:  Sharing the Garden Together

Enjoying the sunshine and spending time by your side in the garden is the perfect way to share an afternoon with your young children.   At this age, focus on nurturing their love for the outdoors and gardening by encouraging them to get their hands dirty making mud pies, blow the fuzzies off dandelions, look for bugs or frogs, use their toy shovel to dig for earthworms, smell the flowers in bloom, and help you pick ripe fruit. If you don’t have a lot of garden space, a large planter is a perfect size and height for a toddler to dig in! 

Your child may enjoy helping with small tasks like pulling weeds, which is a learning opportunity to share why that is important for the other plants to grow.  If they have a lightweight watering can of their own, they can help you water or clean the dirt off freshly picked vegetables.  You might be surprised that getting them to eat their vegetables is easier when they have picked the veggies themselves. Getting dirty and muddy is part of the fun of gardening and can spark a life-long love for digging in the dirt! 

Elementary Age:  Planting the Seed

At this age, your kiddos will be excited to grow their own garden.  They can help you build a raised planter to use, designate a garden bed marked off by painted rocks, or a free-standing planter will work too.  To practice their reading skills, your child can review gardening books to select proper plants for your region and follow the directions on seed packets.  They can apply their math skills to determine the dimensions of a planter, to measure the distance between seeds, or plot out a garden design with the heights and widths of plants. It’s time to move on from the toy shovels and teach them to use proper gardening tools for different tasks, along with tool safety.  If you have limited outdoor space, consider joining a community garden or starting an indoor herb garden.

Once their garden is planted, encourage their creativity with suggestions to embellish their plot of dirt. Painting plant markers on popsicle sticks or rocks with the name of each plant is both an artistic and functional project. Perhaps they may want to be more ambitious by building and painting a bird feeder or a life-sized scarecrow to look over your garden.  Or they can work in miniature and use their imagination to create a fairy garden.  Also, you can encourage more outside play in the garden with a rope swing, treehouse, or a temporary fort of blankets.  Let your child’s imagination run wild in your backyard…but, don’t forget the sunscreen!

Teens:  Grow, Cook, Eat & Enjoy!

Encourage your teen to browse through your cookbooks or search online to find vegetable or fruit-filled treats and recipes that they can grow ingredients for in the garden.  By growing, weeding, watering, and picking their food, they will have a greater appreciation for the time and attention it takes to grow produce.  And planning a dish or meal to share, can give them a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. Teens can also polish and refine their cooking skills in the process.  Suggest making dips for cut vegetables, vegetable soups, cobblers, quiches, or a fresh salad with a combination of fruits and vegetables. 

Simple Garden Salad Dressing:

  • ¾ Cup of olive oil
  • ¼ Cup of vinegar (red wine vinegar or balsamic)
  • 1 Teaspoon of honey
  • 1 Teaspoon of Dijon mustard
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a mason jar, tighten the lid, and shake vigorously.  Dress your garden salad filled with sun-warmed vegetables and ripe fruits.  Variations could include adding fresh herbs and trying different types of vinegar and oil combinations, like seasoned rice vinegar and sesame oil.

To encourage more time outside and in the fresh air, consider making your backyard inviting for teens and a place to hang out with their friends.   Lounge chairs or benches are great places for friends to sprawl in the sun or find spots in the shade to escape the midday heat. Outdoor game areas for cornhole, giant Jenga, badminton, croquet, or horseshoes make your house the place to be. Create a firepit area with seating.  Because no matter your age, everyone loves s’mores and telling stories around a fire. The backyard does not need to be pricey or fancy, comfortable seating (away from the grownups) will work.   

This spring, roll up your sleeves, kick off your shoes, and let’s play in the dirt!      

Share your family gardening ideas on Instagram.  Tag @dreamdinners. We look forward to your family photos in the garden!