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Bonita & Estero Magazine

Growing Up Gardening: Planting a Sense of Purpose, Responsibility in Children

Apr 25, 2018 08:00AM ● By Mandy Carter
In our busy digital age, children need meaningful family connections. Designing a garden, planting seeds and watching the plants grow can give children a sense of purpose and responsibility. Gardening can also teach them team building and promote communication.

Children are, of course, curious—and they learn best by doing. They also love to play in the dirt. Gardening ensures children will gain new skills while checking that the plants get enough fertilizer, water and sun.

They will also develop a sense of mindfulness. Concepts learned while gardening, such as composting food scraps for fertilizer or using gathered rainwater, can show children a deep respect and responsibility for taking care of our planet.

Furthermore, a number of studies show that when children participate in activities such as digging and planting, they have improved moods, better learning experiences and decreased anxiety. Most important, the self-esteem and excitement children feel from eating vegetables or gifting flowers that they grew are priceless.

Tips for Success

Give them serious tools. Do not give your children inexpensive kids’ gardening tools. They often break, creating frustration. Also, find good work gloves that fit small hands. And with some garden tools, such as hoes and spades, you can easily use a saw to shorten the handles. Consider even letting them use your tools to show the importance of the work they're doing.

Start from seeds. While it's a convenient shortcut to use starter kits, children learn best by seeing the growing process start from seeds. The care given to sprouting seeds and nurturing young seedlings are a valuable part of the gardening experience. 

Cheat a little. Depending on the age of the children, you may need to help out a little “behind the scenes.” Not every garden task is pleasant or fun, and children may not be ready at all times for all the necessary tasks. You may need to go out in the evenings to pick a few slugs off the lettuce, or be the one to run out and move the sprinkler.

Show off their work. Give “garden tours” to visitors. Take photographs of the growing garden and send the photos to grandparents. The attention you give to the children’s work is a big motivator for them to stay involved with the entire gardening process.

What to Plant

The following is a list of five crops that are perfect for a child’s garden. They are relatively easy to grow, have short growing seasons and are fun to harvest.


Cherry tomatoes. Growing season is 50-75 days. Plant in full sun and use seedlings rather than plant from seeds. Put in a 2-foot stake alongside each seedling; they need to be tied loosely to stakes as they get taller. Add lots of compost. Water at ground level; try to keep leaves dry. Can also be grown in containers.

Lettuce. Seeds germinate in seven to 10 days; growing season is 40-50 days. A quick and reliable crop that enables children to see fast results. Also a good way to interest them in salads! Lettuce likes partial shade; keep soil moist, especially during first two weeks. Varieties include “head” (space 8 inches apart) and “leaf” (space 4 inches apart). Leaf varieties mature sooner, about 30-35 days.

Potatoes. A “never-fail” crop. Plant red or white varieties; red matures faster. Cut seed potatoes into chunks with at least two eyes per chunk. Plant in furrows 12-15 inches apart, with eyes pointing upward. Mound soil around plant as it grows; harvest when plant collapses.
Snow peas. A quick-growing crop that’s fun for children to eat right off the vine, including the pod. They take about 10 days to germinate and mature in about 60 days. Peas prefer cool, shady locations. They should be planted about 1 inch apart at the most.

Sunflowers. A must for a child's garden. They sprout in a week, become small seedlings in two weeks and are about 2 feet tall in a month. In about eight weeks, they begin revealing hundreds of seed kernels. Sunflowers dry naturally in late summer sun. The seeds, which are rich in protein and iron, can be roasted for snacks.


Mandy Carter is a local mom with a passion for family travel, a popular travel blogger including her own family blog at and the Digital Content & Engagement Editor for TOTI Media.