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Gardening with kids will give you an opportunity to not only spend quality time with your children, it also presents many teaching opportunities. You can use the garden as an example to teach important life lessons that they might not learn anywhere else.
If your children express any interest in gardening, make sure to encourage it. Set them up with their own little children's garden, and help them with it, or plant some rows in your garden with them. In turn, they will probably want to help you with your garden throughout the season.
Depending on their age, help can mean different things. Remember, the younger they are, the shorter their attention span. When my daughter was 2, "helping" meant helping dad plant about a half row of beans then playing in the dirt and asking about 7,000 Daddy, why... questions, while daddy finished planting everything else. That being said, the "help" gets more helpful each year.
Plant "fun" stuff when you're gardening with kids. They are fascinated with the out of the ordinary, really small, really big and really strange.
Miniature tomatoes - Currant tomatoes are about the size of a pea and come in red and yellow. Cherry tomatoes come in red, yellow, black and purple. Pear tomatoes are basically cherry tomatoes with an unusual shape and can be found in red or yellow. All of these are very sweet and have very intense tomato flavors.
Popcorn or Indian Corn - Both of these grow just like sweet corn. The only difference is that you'll let the ears dry on the stalk before picking them. Home grown popcorn makes for an interesting and fun winter snack. Indian Corn can be used for Fall decoration, or it can be ground to make cornmeal - which makes awesome cornbread with multicolored flecks. If you have a local farmer's market, you and your kids could get a booth and sell popcorn and Indian Corn if you grow enough.
Pumpkins & Ornamental Gourds - Timing is important if you're planning pumpkins for Halloween & Thanksgiving decorations. Count back the number of days to maturity from Halloween, add about two weeks and plant seeds then. Keep in mind these vines take up a LOT of space. Gourds and pumpkins are also good candidates for a fall farmers market booth.
Peanuts - They may have a long growing season to mature, but are fun for kids and parents alike. Peanuts grow on the roots of the plant underground. Plant them out as early as you can if you live in a northern climate. When mature dig them like you would potatoes. Roast peanuts on a cookie sheet in the oven at 300°F for about 20-30 minutes, stir them occasionally. With the right equipment you and your little ones could even make your own peanut butter. Cool!
Ornamental or uniquely colored peppers - These little gems are so varied in shape and color they can't help but fascinate the kids. They are often harder to find than standard bell and banana peppers. Unless you have a really good nursery close by, you may have to start them yourself indoors from seeds purchased from a seed catalog. Most ornamental varieties of peppers are too hot for most people to eat, so make sure that your little helpers know that.
Yard Long Green Beans - These interesting beans are vining varieties and need some trellis to grow on. They produce bean pods that can reach 36 inches long. Most kids have a blast picking these and showing them off to Mom & Dad or Grandparents! Break and cook them just like you would any other green bean.
Giant sunflowers - The bigger the better! Some varieties can develop blossom heads up to 24 inches across, and grow up to ten feet tall! Several of these will produce a huge amount of sunflower seeds, which can be roasted in much the same way as peanuts.
Flowers - There's nothing wrong with planting some annual flowers along with the fun vegetables. Most kids enjoy the variety. Marigolds, Zinnias, and Amaranth are fun to grow, and also make really neat bird food in the fall and early winter. Finches, sparrows, and other seed eating birds will come and eat the seeds if you don't mind letting the stalks stand dry and brown for a few weeks after everything else has been harvested.
There are plenty of other fun things that you can plant when gardening with kids. Use your imagination. Look through seed catalogs with them. Let them help pick out what you'll plant in the coming year. The more involved you keep them, the more likely they will remain interested long enough for the pay-off...
Aside from the obvious skills a child can learn, gardening with kids offer opportunities for you to teach some important life lessons that your kids can carry with them long after they leave the nest:
Self Reliance - When they grow up they will be able to grow their own food. What an incredibly powerful skill and source of self confidence.
Self Worth - When your kids help you harvest a garden that they helped you plant and care for all summer, they get a feeling of having accomplished something important with their own hands. Make sure that you let them know that you are proud of them, and that you appreciate their help. A little praise will go a long way.
Responsibility - It doesn't take long for your kids to realize that those plants depend on them for care. An untended garden quickly reverts back to it's wild state. You can use that one aspect of their life to illustrate how responsibility applies not only to themselves, but also to others (pets, family, friends,and garden plants).
Patience - From planting to harvest takes a long time time - even longer when you're a kid. This is a great chance to teach them that not everything in life is fast food, and immediate gratification. Some things are worth waiting for.
Healthy Eating Habits - Your kids are far more likely to eat vegetables that they helped plant, tend, and pick. If you garden, you already know that home grown vegetables and fruit taste so much better than vegetables bought at the store.
Financial Responsibility - If you do take your kids to the farmer's market to sell their surplus produce, you have a perfect teaching opportunity when it comes to the money they make. Teach them that they have to keep so much back for next year's seeds and why. Let them spend some of their earnings on something they want. If they make enough, help them set up a savings account for college, a car when they're old enough, or some other big ticket item.
An Appreciation for Growing Things - Gardening with kids lets you introduce them to nature and growing things. You can teach them the basics of ecology, biology, and an understanding of how the weather affects plants and animals. You don't have to be a college graduate, teach them what you know. If you don't know something they ask about, look it up with them. That in itself is a lesson too.
...and the biggest one of all...Developing a deeper relationship with their parents. Time spent together is quality time. It doesn't have to be gardening, any productive activity is a good activity. My daughter and I also go fishing together as often as we get a chance to. That kind of quiet time together opens lines of communication that might otherwise remain closed. You can have that with your kids too. Just find something that you are both interested in, and spend some quality time doing it.
Gardening with kids can build strong bonds between parents and children. Your kids are a gift that you only get to keep for a few years before you have to let them go. Adulthood comes quickly. Use the limited time you have with them to teach them important life skills and habits they don't teach in school.
Raise 'em right.