Recently I read a statistic that 90% of our best childhood memories took place outdoors. I’m not sure what type of science was involved in coming up with this conclusion, but as I thought back on my own childhood it certainly seemed accurate.

What better way to spur enthusiasm than to involve kids in the fun of creating their own gardens. Research has shown that children who are able to play in and explore gardens and green spaces in an unstructured way are better able to remain grounded and in tune with nature as adults. Even without trees to climb, there are more possibilities for adventure in a garden than indoors and, with a little guidance, some basic equipment, and a few plants, kids can transform the smallest space into a blooming oasis they can be proud of. Anything that encourages kids to grow things seems like an obvious addition to a natural play space. Whether you live in the country or in the city — whether you have a big backyard or only room enough for a window box — you can grow a garden with your kids. Here are a few special tips to help ensure that you and your kids have a successful gardening adventure:

Give them their own space

Find an area that is accessible and suitable for your child’s garden. Ensure it gets a lot of sunlight and is near a water source and has good soil. Allow the children to choose the layout for their garden. It does not necessarily have to be the usual rectangular shape. A small plot or sandbox converted into a garden bed will provide your child with a sense of ownership and the responsibility that goes with it. It can also be a garden consisting of beautifully designed pots. A round vegetable garden with divisions for different plants can also be fun and exciting.

Encourage your child to use his creativity in designing the vegetable garden, so it becomes uniquely his or her own.

To get your kids excited about their vegetable garden is to have them plant vegetables that they like to eat and are easy to grow. Common choices include tomatoes, radishes, carrots, cucumbers, beans, peas, and squash. Encourage them to consider planting at least one vegetable that is new to them, so they have the experience of trying something different … like eggplant or kohlrabi.

If you only have a little corner to garden in, then choose dwarf and compact vegetables and herb varieties that will crop in a very small space and won’t grow so tall that they overshadow their neighbors. To add color and excitement, you can plant some colorful flowers such as sunflowers and marigolds.

Keep safety in mind

Garden tools are often large, heavy, and not well suited for little hands. Fortunately, several companies make children’s garden tools that they can use to do real work. Of course, there are many jobs that will require adult work with adult tools. Children develop at different rates, and only parents or guardians will know when their kids are ready to be introduced to using specific tools or are able to help with certain jobs. Working alongside a grown-up and having a go at something (under close supervision at first) is a great way for children to learn safe practices and to gain the skills needed for greater independence. However, continuing adult guidance will be required. After ensuring that the garden is as risk-free as it can reasonable be, children should have as much freedom within its boundaries as possible.

Explain what you’re doing and why

While gardening sometimes seems like magic to kids – food from the dirt – it actually has a lot of science and math involved. Planting seeds can lead to a conversation about the life cycle of plants and what plants need to grow. Measuring out where to put plants can help kids understand how to use a tape measure and sharpen their math skills. Talking your kids through what you are doing will help them build their own skills as gardeners as well as provide a practical application for much of what they learn in school.

Get them excited by planting an edible garden or a tasting garden so they can enjoy the fruits of their labor. UGA Master Gardeners in Cherokee County are available to lead you to all the resources that you will need to create summer fun in the garden with your kids.

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Barbara Schrimer is one of many UGA Master Gardener Extension Volunteers of Cherokee County. For more information or questions contact the Cherokee County Extension Office at 770-721-7803 or for upcoming seminars follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cherokeemastergardeners or on our website at cherokeemastergardenersinc.wildapricot.org.

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