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Food Gardening with Kids

Kids and veggie gardens: a perfect pair

Growing food with kids is fun and educational. It not only provides an activity all family members can enjoy, but it also offers intangible benefits such as reduced stress and an appreciation for healthy, delicious food. It also allows parents to model community giving by sharing excess produce with food banks and others in need. Here are suggestions for getting your kids into the garden, whether they're preschoolers, grade schoolers, or older.

Young children love gardening. Photo: pexels, Maggie
Getting small children involved: making it fun with theme gardens

Gardening with kids is fun and inspires them to eat what they grow which leads to healthier eating habits and helps them build a stronger relationship to the environment. Food gardening can also incorporate math skills (garden planning), science (how plants grow), literature (keep a garden journal or read garden related stories), art (build a birdfeeder) and more!  One great way to get kids excited about gardening is have them help design the garden and make some of the planting choices.  Creating a theme garden makes the planning process easy and helps develop an understanding of what goes into their food. Some ideas:

  • Plant Parts We Eat garden – Children are often amazed to learn that the food we eat comes from many different plant parts. Arranging plants according to the part of the plant we eat is a fun way for kids to learn this first-hand.
    • roots (carrots, radish)
    • stems (celery, asparagus)
    • flowers (broccoli, artichoke)
    • fruits (tomato, pepper) 
    • seeds (corn, beans)
    • leaves (lettuce, spinach)
  • Pizza garden - Grow onions, peppers, tomato, basil, oregano. Have a pizza night with food grown and harvested from home.
  • Burrito garden – Grow tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, peppers, beans. Grab some tortillas and you've created a healthy, kid-friendly dinner.
  • Herbal Tea garden – Grow pineapple sage, stevia, calendula, lemongrass, chamomile, lemon verbena, anise hyssop, mint & lemon balm (make sure to grow any plants in the mint family in a container since they are very invasive). Get out the teacups and brew an afternoon tea party your kids will adore.

Going deeper: activities for elementary school children

The UC Marin Master Gardeners have created many activities that teach children about gardening. This includes our Dig It, Grow It, Eat It program, which took place at the Marin Art & Garden Center for 3rd and 4th graders. You can use these edible plant and nutrition-based lessons in your own backyard to introduce or deepen understanding of how plants grow and benefit us.

Middle and high school students find educational benefits from gardening. Photo: unsplash, CDC
Middle and high school students find educational benefits from gardening. Photo: unsplash, CDC
Bigger kids, bigger projects: an outdoor classroom in your backyard

Middle and high school students can benefit educationally from time spent in the garden. Here's how to engage older students in the veggie garden. 

  • Reading and language - From reviewing seed catalogs to reading directions on a label to understanding details of integrated pest management, student gardeners use and expand their reading and language skills. Students research plants’ cultural requirements, they give presentations on garden-related topics, and they create and publish school garden newsletters.
  • Math - How many yards of mulch are needed to cover the garden paths two inches deep? To achieve proper spacing, how many pumpkin seeds should be planted in a 20’x20’ plot of land?  If the cost of one cubic yard of soil is $20, how much will it cost to fill twelve 5’x15’x2’ raised beds? The veggie garden offers many real-life math problems.
  • Science – Many gardening questions offer serious food for thought. What do plants need to grow? Why do some plants do better in shade and some in sun?  What are the threats to a plant’s survival in the garden?  What does soil testing tell us?  How can we practice sustainable agriculture?
  • History and social studies - A gardening education helps build critical thinking skills. What types of plants were grown by the Native Americans? Why? How? What plants were originally grown around the California missions? What were the uses of these plants? What were some of the favorite food plants of our ancestors and why? Why won’t plants that grow in the rainforest grow here very well?
  • Art - Art and gardens go hand in hand. Student artists can draw plants and plant parts in various artistic media. They can create sculptures, stepping stones, and other “objets d’art” for the garden.
  • Technology - Student gardeners can take charge of internet searches for various horticultural projects, create garden websites, and utilize CAD software for designing garden structures such as arbors and benches. In an effort to exchange ideas, students can connect with other schools and gardeners around the world.