Gardening Blog

How to garden with kids: Part 2

Weeds.

Just like death and taxes.

The question is not what to do with them so much as it is how.

I woke up early the other morning and decided to get outside before it got too hot. I couldn’t believe how much I accomplished in one hour! Why? No phone ringing, no appointments to race against, not cleaning soil out of anyone’s mouth, or negotiating settlement in custody suits over the best toys. No sun beating down, either.

It was a wonderful experience, however rare. The daytime routine usually involves doorbells, babies eating dirt, and irate Tonka truck drivers.

But daytime also means I usually have at least a couple of helpers of the smaller size.

Again, the question is not what to do with them (teach them the value of hard work) so much as it is how.

Insistence? Indeed. Bribery? Occasionally.

1. I remember my mom asking us kids, as teenagers, to help in the garden for just 15 minutes, a couple of times a week. I and my siblings often ended up staying a little longer than that, just to finish the row we were on, or to pick a few raspberries for dessert. I tried this with my young kids. Well, they’re no dummies. Get the clock running, then go find your sunhat, then chose a different tool, then deliberate over which vegetable needs your attention… 15 minutes is gone in no time! So while I may go back to the 15-minute strategy when they get older, my kids are now each assigned a bucket. Fill the bucket with weeds, you’re free. It’s a visual, finite goal they can wrap their heads around. Depending on their age and the desperateness of your situation, use ice cream pails or half-gallon honey buckets. Try sharing a big trug, but be warned, you may end up with accusations over who’s working and who isn’t. It didn’t take them long to figure out that if they pull the biggest weeds, the bucket fills faster, which is great, because those are the ones I want gone the most!

2. I expect a certain level of help from my kids, but I do offer to pay a specified rate for full buckets beyond the required one.

3. I have been known to offer “today only” specials for kids wanting to earn a little coin: when the dandelions were about to set seed this spring, I was paying a dime per root. I’ve spent ten bucks on worse things. (Don’t do the math, please.)

4. As much as a slave driver as I can be, I try to make the experience as pleasant as possible. We like to do our veggie gardening in the evening, when it’s cooler, and we like to visit while we work.

5. If you’ve got more than one kid, like me, experiment with working either all together or one on one, taking turns. You can get a lot done together, but it’s easier to teach one on one without distractions and you can give that child some special attention while the others play.

6. I know a woman who told her kids, “Go pick green beans/peas. Each bean/pea you pick earns you one minute at the dam (the go-to beach two minutes from town).” They were set on earning at least an hour.

7. I learned a lesson from six-year-old Avery this week: he was messing around, not helping at all, while we were cleaning up some suckers around mature trees and the grass around some newly planted ones. He said, “I wish I had a forest right here that I could play army in.” I said, “That’s what we’re working on, Avery. These trees will grow up into a forest if we take good care of them.” Darned if he didn’t dive in and get to work.

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