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Toddlers love to get dirty and you, as a parent, love for them to learn while doing so. Gardening with your little one is a great way to help them learn while playing in the mud. Make it a vegetable garden and you will both reap and eat what you sow!
Have your child select seeds or seedlings at the store or in a catalog. Making choices gives even the youngest child ownership of the project. If you are starting from scratch with new potting soil, buy some extra because you will no doubt lose some on the ground with a clumsy toddler involved. Discuss early in your process how plants grow from nutrients – “plant food” – from soil and water. You could also make plant markers with your child out of Popsicle sticks so you both remember where and what you planted.
Get out all the trowels and even a few spoons and forks to see what your toddler will do with the soil. Let her do some digging before you show her how to plant each seed or little sprout. Do some mud painting on large pieces of paper or the patio for extra fun when you are done. Then spray it all away with the hose – patio, shovels and kid together!
Inserting sticks, or even rulers, in the soil next to your growing greens will help your child see, and remember, their progress. Help him mark their growth on your sticks. Guide him to water the plants with his own special watering can. Help him fertilize your sprouts, if you wish. Some fertilizer can be toxic in store bought concentrations so take care to mix thoroughly and perhaps before your child comes in contact with it. Weeding can also be a chore you do together, gently. If nothing grows at all, don’t be afraid to buy a new plant and swap it out!
The day before your veggie garden is first ready to harvest, show your toddler pictures of your future bounty or point out everything that you won’t need to buy at the grocery store. Demonstrate to your toddler how to gently remove the veggies from plants. Help her do it on her own, expecting a few to get squished.
Wash your veggies together at the kitchen sink. Consume some of your harvest raw so your tot can really experience his homegrown goodies. Let him eat some while in the garden, too. Find recipes that will highlight your crop. Give some away, teaching your child about sharing and friendship.
Gardening with your toddler will be a messy and rewarding experience. Doing it annually may encourage your child to love the outdoors, understand where his food originates, and start a life long hobby that you share. Remember that mud washes out and next year, your kid won’t be quite as uncoordinated. The National Garden Month website has more ideas for gardening with your child and a guide from She Knows has extra ideas.