Connect kids with nature through gardening

The summer sun is finally shining down on all of us, and our gardens are getting the love they need. Kids are on summer break, and you are ready to get to work in the garden with them. Now is a great time to encourage kids to grow those green thumbs and connect with nature through gardening.

I remember seeing my mother tending to her plants in the short growing season in Alaska when I was a kid. I remember watching her taking great care to make sure they grew to their potential, troubleshooting when something went wrong and taking pride when they blossomed. I was always envious of her green thumb. I wish I had enjoyed more time in the garden with my mom to learn her secrets and said ‘Yes’ more often when she asked if I wanted to garden. As an adult, I understand the triumphs of getting your seeds to sprout and the slight sadness when my plants fail to grow, and I appreciate all the time spent in-between to nurture those plants.

child in garden
Summer is a great time to encourage kids to grow their green thumbs. Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet, Cooperative Extension.

Perhaps now you are ready to share your passion of gardening with the children in your life. A great place to start is when planning your garden. Involve them in some of the decision-making process. Let them help you decide between the different types of plants you will grow and where. Think about whether or not you want an edible garden or want to enjoy the beauty that flowers and pollinators bring into your landscape.

Encourage your mini gardeners to draw out their garden plan. This is a great way to sneak in a little math into their summer fun. Get down in the dirt with them and let them get their hands dirty. Tell them all the wonderful ways that soil helps your plants grow. Share with them the nutrients the soil provides and how important water and the sun are to their garden, and you just may be encouraging a budding scientist.

As they are planning, share with them why certain plants work well together and why others do not. Once you have finished planning, start seeds or start planting transplants. Make observations of how small or big the plants are. Have your little ones create a gardening journal and keep track of the progress these plants make. Drawing each plant at different stages of growth or take pictures and let those gardeners-in-training see their hard work.

Take out a magnifying glass and go on a hunt for insects. Turn over leaves and carefully dig in the dirt and see what you can find. Take time to discuss beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, while discussing why other insects, such as large populations of aphids, are not so great for your plants.

There are many opportunities to engage children’s natural curiosity and wonder through gardening. Enjoy time in the garden and pass on your green thumb to the next generation of gardeners!

Leilani Konyshev is the Master Gardener Program coordinator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension in Washoe County. Have questions about your plants? Contact a master gardener at 775-336-0265 or mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu. And visit www.growyourownnevada.com.