Building a Garden with (and for) Kids 

The more your children want to be in the garden, the more you can be in the garden too. Win-win!
family garden kids gardening raised beds

Katie Mullin creates a special garden bed for her daughters so they can all work side by side. Family photography by Gail Owens.

A Family Garden Journey

When we bought our first home, I envisioned my house being “the” house. You know which house I’m talking about—the house where all your kids and their friends, and their friend’s friends end up at the end of the day to play. And that’s exactly what our house has quickly become, not because of our in-ground trampoline or play structure, but because of our really cool garden space.

I knew my kids really loved our garden when they requested their birthday party be located and themed around our yard. As a mom, I recognize all the benefits of my garden hobby for my own health, but if I really think about it, the people benefiting the most are my kids. Knowing where their food comes from has transformed our everyday lifestyle. I have seen their confidence soar since our garden rehab has begun and that in itself is worth all the weed pulling, ant infestations and fertilizing schedules.

garden kids gardening with kids children family friendly garden

The road to raising little gardeners hasn’t always been an easy one. In fact, it took quite a bit of creative thinking. An idyllic day in the garden for me starts early in the morning when the weather’s not too hot so that I can check multiple items off my to-do list. When I noticed the reality that most of my garden experiences were squeezing in harvest time between naps or little ones asking for “ups” or pushes on the tree horsey swing, the lightbulb went off. I realized that the more my kids wanted to be in the garden, the more I could be in the garden. Win-win! Thus began my mission to engage my children’s daily life with all aspects and gifts that my garden could give them. Here’s how I’m encouraging my little gardeners, and day by day planting seeds that sprout joy.

Creating a Routine

Just like anything else with kids, the routine of their participation in caring for our garden is crucial. Our trusty chore chart plays a massive part in our productivity…seriously, my kids will do anything for a sticker. Below is an example of a weekly chore chart I use for both my 2-year-old and my 6-year-old. Some weeks we knock off two or three items, and others we’re lucky if we get one on the books. What I am noticing is that my kids love watching the results of their help around our garden, and that is essential for keeping them interested in our family garden journey.

Weekly Garden Chores

Feed animals

Pull weeds

Pick ripe veggies and fruit

Decide on one menu item for dinner from the garden

Rake extra pruning and weeds off the ground

Punch bolted plants

Choose garden snacks for our chickens


Plant Pickers

How often do kids these days have the opportunity to see what they eat from start to finish? Among my little ones’ favorite activities this past year was exploring our favorite local plant stand and picking what they’d like to plant. Sure, most of the time they just chose the plant that most closely resembled pink, but more often than not they picked out food they’d like to try (whatever looked the most like their favorite side dish, green beans).

Mini Gardens for Your Mini

One of my favorite things that we recently tried is creating a special garden bed just for the kids. They’re in charge. It’s their own space to love and explore their creativity and, even more important, garden side-by-side with me. When kids have their own space where they can experiment, play and be the boss, they enjoy their accomplishments and successes even more.

If you are tight on space, try fun rock gardens or my children’s favorite, a fairy garden. The dollar stores have all the tiny fairies, frogs and aquarium castles you’ll need. Our number one priority for their mini gardens is giving them a space to imagine and permission to get really dirty!

Little Sous Chefs

Putting our harvest on the table has been my kids’ biggest motivator to tend to our garden to date. They love sitting down to dinner and naming the veggies on their plate and sharing a memory of how it got there. Their involvement in putting food on the table has transformed our dinner routine. We even took our 6-year-old’s interest to the next level by gifting her with her own garden cookbook and some blank recipe cards so she can create some new favorite dishes. I highly suggest giving your little gardeners a cookbook and letting them go crazy. Our new favorite cookbook is American Girl: Garden to Table Cookbook by Williams Sonoma Test Kitchen.

Connect with Animals in the Garden

kids gardening backyard chickens gardens children

Katie‘s daughter, Lily, with a pet chicken.

So much of being garden adventurers revolves around the animals and insects that make our everyday garden happy and healthy. For us, we have chickens to chase and barn cats to pet, but you don’t have to have larger animals to connect with that side of nature. We love digging for worms, setting up butterfly gardens, and scouting for new and exciting insects. My kids have learned through our everyday garden habits how much time and energy it takes to make our garden grow and the natural ecosystem that it supports. Engaging with these animals, insects and bugs helps them understand the impact our backyard delivers. And wouldn’t it be incredible if they grew up feeling responsible for all that nature provides and empowered to care for it?

Katie’s Garden Notebook

Don’t miss Katie’s (monthly) “10 Things to Do in the Garden in May,” where she gives you the low-down on planting and maintenance specific to our region, this month. She’ll also recommend books, instagram accounts and more for inspiration, and highlight some of the upcoming local garden events for the month. Read the May guide here.

Categories: Gardening