All Things Gardening forum: Four Year Old Budding Gardener

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Name: Anne
Summerville, SC (Zone 8a)
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Xeramtheum
Mar 10, 2014 9:25 AM CST
My neighbors 4 year old daughter loves flowers and has shown an interest in gardening. I'm more than willing to 'take her on' this summer and show her the ropes.

My problem is, I've never been around children, especially ones this young. I could sure use some advice on how to teach her as we go along and basically, what's a 4 year old like? Do they have short attention spans? Should I limit the amount of time she's with me?

Any advice would be more than welcome!
"We were all humans until race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divided us and wealth classified us."

Unknown

Name: Hetty
Sunny Naples, Florida (Zone 10a)
Plumerias Photo Contest Winner: 2015 Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Database Moderator
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Dutchlady1
Mar 10, 2014 9:34 AM CST
I think it might be nice to show her things that she can relate to and that grow fast. Carrot tops are always a great fun project.
Name: Ginger
Fountain, Florida (Zone 8b)
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gingin
Mar 10, 2014 9:41 AM CST
Good for you, Anne Thumbs up Maybe Mom will let you take her to a garden center where she can pick out a few plants "all her own" to plant and watch grow. Have fun teaching her and enjoy...looking foreward to pictures. Lovey dubby
Each cloud has a silver lineing if only you look for it.
Name: Arlene
Grantville, GA (Zone 8a)
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abhege
Mar 11, 2014 5:05 PM CST
My four year old granddaughter helps me plant seeds, mulch, even weed. Trick is to make it fun and educational. Like when mulching we always say, "Snug as a bug in a rug" so she knows he is doing something to help/protect the plant. When she plants seeds we just check EVERY DAY to see if anything is "popping up,"and I use my finger curled up then gradually uncurling to represent the seed sprouting and pushing through the soil. Maybe let some seeds sprout in paper towel? I show her how to weed correctly, even knocking the soil off the roots, and how to identify the seedlings or perennials peeking through, like peonies. She can identify buds and knows they will be flowers and she knows when the flower has died it produces seeds. But every child is different and you'd just have to play it by ear to see how interested she really is and how much she grasps.

Now my granddaughter has been coming to the garden with me since before she could walk and she already knows lots names of flowers and can identify peas, beans, corn, garlic, etc. But if your neighbor's daughter is really interested, give her mini lessons unless she wants to hang around, and just keep repeating things. When my granddaughter was two she helped me dig a 50' row of potatoes and she stuck it out for the whole row. She loved standing on the fork to push it in (I did one side, she did the other), then pull, pull to leverage the fork and lift the potatoes out. What a magical surprise to find the potatoes! Of course, I still feel that way myself! Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
Mar 11, 2014 10:11 PM CST
So right, digging potatoes is a treasure hunt! Anne I've been volunteering at the local elementary school where we have a vegetable garden. We grew purple potatoes last fall and this spring we have yellow ones!

The youngest kids are in kindergarten, so they are mostly 5 years old. We keep the sessions short, and think of a quick project each time the kids visit that will hold their attention. They are usually in the garden about half an hour.

The first thing I'd recommend is seeing if you (or mom) can get a pair of little gloves for the child. A magical thing happens when kids put on gardening gloves - they want to dive right in and dig a hole! (Another thing we found is that kids in Florida don't know how to put on gloves, but that's another story) We teach the 'basics' in words of one syllable i.e. "what 3 things to plants need?" Sun, water and soil. "what part of the plant collects sun?" the leaves . . . etc.

Getting up to 3rd graders we start to teach the 'real' theory of things like photosynthesis, but for the little kids it's just "The sun helps the plant make food for itself and for us".

Little kids like to plant big seeds that are easy to handle, like peas and beans. Beans have been the most fun plant we've had in the garden because they germinate fast, grow fast, produce a lot, and down here they always get bean leaf rollers. Don't forget that a pest on the plant is a learning opportunity - kids love to unroll the leaf edge and find the caterpillar hiding in there. Then we talk about why we can't let them eat up our bean leaves - again, the plant needs its leaves to make food. Oh, and when we first found the leaf rollers, I made a boo boo when a little person took the caterpillar off the plant and asked what to do with it. I said "oh, just drop it and step on it" You should have seen that little face !! Now we throw them over the fence into the grass field - "set them free". Rolling my eyes.

That leads us to talk about what we can do to prevent bugs, critters and birds from eating our plants. Soapy water, baking soda solution and Bt are all we use in our school garden so it's easy to explain even to the little ones that you only use things that are not bad for people, animals and the environment. etc. etc. We also talk about good bugs and bad bugs a little bit i.e. "do you think a spider is good or bad in the garden?" "do we want a snake to be in our garden?" We have a little corner with butterfly plants, and we also talk about why we need butterflies and bees to come to our garden.

Let the child do weeding, and show them how to recycle the weeds into compost. At the end of the school year, our most fun day is when the kids come out to clear out the garden. They pull out the plants, cut them up into pieces and pile them into the compost. Then when they come back after the summer, they are amazed that all that plant material had reduced down to beautiful new soil!

Last thing, also see if you can find a really small watering can. Get one with a 'rose' that sprinkles, not one that pours. Again, long faces if a big stream of water knocks down a seedling! We say "water gently like the rain" and that works. Kids just LOVE to water! We got 2qt. watering cans at Home Depot that are a good size for kindergartners, but still we don't fill them right up, as they're too heavy and the kids struggle and spill.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." โ€“Winston Churchill
Name: Calin
Weston-super-mare UK (Zone 7b)
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fixpix
Mar 12, 2014 1:13 AM CST
Sun flowers?
All children know what they are and color them at kindergarten, school, etc.
Name: Anne
Summerville, SC (Zone 8a)
Be a voice - not an echo!
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Xeramtheum
Mar 12, 2014 7:46 AM CST
Thanks Elaine, great information. Calin I was actually planning some sunflowers in her little garden at her house. I'm looking forward to this .. It will be a learning experience for both of us!
"We were all humans until race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divided us and wealth classified us."

Unknown

Name: Lin
Florida (Zone 9b)
Region: United States of America Morning Glories Region: Florida Houseplants Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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plantladylin
Mar 12, 2014 8:46 AM CST
My first thought was Sunflowers. The seeds are large enough for little hands and have a fast germination rate, so children see results quickly ... and who doesn't love sunflowers! Marigolds always seem to be a favorite flower with children too. For a "Salad Garden" lettuce and cherry tomato's are a great choice. With tomato's you could either start them from seed or purchase a small seedling plant.

I agree with whoever mentioned watering ... when my nieces were young they loved watering all of my plants, either with the garden hose (which ended up with them getting soaked as well Smiling or a watering can. A number of years ago either Target or Walmart gardening center carryied children's gardening gloves, boots, and tools ... all miniature in size for little hands and it does make them feel all grown up to have their own gardening items. One of my nieces used to put my gloves on and she loved playing in the beds and planting stuff even using big girl tools. Green Grin!

If it hasn't been done already someone who's good at writing should write an article for ATP about "Gardening with Children". Green Grin!
~ Eat, Sleep .... Play in the dirt ~
Name: Hetty
Sunny Naples, Florida (Zone 10a)
Plumerias Photo Contest Winner: 2015 Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Database Moderator
Forum moderator Region: Florida Cat Lover Garden Sages Cactus and Succulents Tropicals
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Dutchlady1
Mar 12, 2014 9:06 AM CST
Excellent idea, Lin!
Name: Carole
Clarksville, TN (Zone 6b)
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SongofJoy
Mar 12, 2014 9:18 AM CST
Ditto on the sunflower suggestion. I know our Walmart has gardening supplies sized for children. Such fun!
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched -- they must be felt with the heart. ~ Helen Keller
[Last edited by SongofJoy - Mar 13, 2014 7:50 AM (+)]
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Name: Joanne
Calgary, AB Canada (Zone 3a)
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Joannabanana
Mar 12, 2014 5:07 PM CST
All fantastic suggestions everyone!! When Melissa, my daughter, was that age, we did these kind of things:
1) I had two container combos (Hybrid Tea Rose and all edible herbs). She knew that all the plants in those pots were safe to nibble.
2) Great importance and reminders that many plants were dangerous/ poisonous. Some we could eat, some we could touch and some were completely hands off. Even though she loved to take apart a bleeding heart flower, she was well aware to never stick it in her mouth.
3) Her container was usually a "Shade Combo". Reasons were, the display didn't change much through the growing season and she would always check on it. It was always there and she would recognize it immediately. Kids don't like it when their flower stops blooming and shade combos tend to look the same throughout the growing season. At that age we would buy plants in flower for her container combo.
4) Watering was fun. I have an old fashion hand pump on top my rain barrel which kids love to fill pails or watering cans to "water the plants" FYI you will need to water after they water.
5) Any time you need digging done that is a great job....but you will need to dig after they are finished digging
6) Looking for bugs, specifically: ladybugs and relocate them to eat aphids. I've bought a bag of live ladybugs and the kid loved it. She was more about the bug management than caring for the plants
7) Kids "pick" flowers and don't deadhead. Point out the blooms that they can remove the petals and throw in the air.
8) Expect plants to pop up everywhere. Peas in the flowerbeds, house plants, etc.
9) Seeding is fun, but don't expect more than one small row or one tray.
10) If you choose a special plant, select the planting spot that makes it very special. I have a little statue of an angel on her tummy reading a book. This is always a great place for a special annual flower....one that blooms continually.
11) plant up a treasure chest (cheap at the dollar store) and you can add jewels, miniature figurines etc.
12) make a "fairy" garden...doesn't need to be big and can be in a container

Melissa was probably one of the only 4 year old's that knew the difference between a pansy and petunia. She spent hours in the veggie garden eating peas and carrots on the spot. I never expected her to "help" with any gardening, only enjoyed her "playing" in the garden at that age. As she grew older, of course our gardening time changed as far as tasks and "jobs".

One of the most fun things to do is grow annual poppies. We have a game to guess the colour of the bloom before the bud opens. The petals come out like tissue paper and I even like that game.

If nothing else, the kids need to appreciate and identify harmful plants. Everything else is all play.


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[Last edited by Joannabanana - Mar 12, 2014 5:37 PM (+)]
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Name: Joanne
Calgary, AB Canada (Zone 3a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Region: Canadian Charter ATP Member Seed Starter Roses
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Annuals Container Gardener Vegetable Grower Winter Sowing Enjoys or suffers cold winters
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Joannabanana
Mar 12, 2014 7:43 PM CST
Hey.... we got moved. Just like that!
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
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RickCorey
Mar 12, 2014 8:23 PM CST
I hope you can teach her to like worms. Or at least appreciate the work they do underground, loosening the soil so the roots have it easier.

"Oh, look! There's Willy Worm again! Or is that his brother Wilbur Worm?"

Be sure to invite her back after some cherry tomatoes ripen. Her attention span is bound to be long enough for you to "teach" her to appreciate cherry tomatoes.

Name: Tiffany
Opp, AL (Zone 8b)
Houseplants Organic Gardener Composter Region: Gulf Coast Miniature Gardening Native Plants and Wildflowers
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purpleinopp
Mar 13, 2014 7:22 AM CST
Whatever you have time to show her, most of it will stick! I can remember tending potted plants with my Mom at that age, separating zinna seeds from chaff at my Aunt's house, picking veggies for dinner in Gramma's garden. Why we don't teach all elementary age kids this stuff is a serious mystery to me. Everyone should know where their food comes from!

Butterflies were mentioned above, which which I agree very much! Watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly is very powerful and fascinating to folks of all ages.

Have a blast!
๐Ÿ‘€๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜‚ - SMILE! -โ˜บ๐Ÿ˜Žโ˜ปโ˜ฎ๐Ÿ‘ŒโœŒโˆžโ˜ฏ๐Ÿฃ๐Ÿฆ๐Ÿ”๐Ÿ๐Ÿฏ๐Ÿพ
๐Ÿ€๐Ÿ‘’โ˜€๐Ÿ„๐Ÿ๐ŸŒฑ๐ŸŒฟ๐ŸŒด๐ŸŽ„๐Ÿ‘ฃ๐ŸŒต๐ŸŒทโš˜๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒป๐ŸŒฝ๐Ÿก๐Ÿƒ๐Ÿ‚๐ŸŒพ๐ŸŒฟ๐Ÿโฆโง ๐Ÿƒ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ‚๐ŸŒพ๐ŸŒป๐ŸŒบ๐ŸŒธ๐ŸŒผ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒณ๐ŸŒฒ
โ˜•๐Ÿ‘“ The only way to succeed is to try.
Name: Anne
Summerville, SC (Zone 8a)
Be a voice - not an echo!
Plant and/or Seed Trader Enjoys or suffers cold winters Hybridizer Birds Seed Starter Cat Lover
Pollen collector Morning Glories Greenhouse Bookworm Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages
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Xeramtheum
Mar 13, 2014 7:26 AM CST
Everyone is getting me real exited about this! Thanks for all the great tips and advice!
"We were all humans until race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divided us and wealth classified us."

Unknown

Name: Lin
Florida (Zone 9b)
Region: United States of America Morning Glories Region: Florida Houseplants Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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plantladylin
Mar 13, 2014 7:35 AM CST
Anne: Keep us posted on how it goes!
~ Eat, Sleep .... Play in the dirt ~
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Region: Alabama Composter Garden Photography Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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Seedfork
Mar 13, 2014 8:08 AM CST
Each child is different, pay attention to what draws her attention!
Name: Deb
Pacific Northwest (Zone 8b)
Region: Pacific Northwest Organic Gardener Herbs Dragonflies Dog Lover Keeper of Poultry
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Bonehead
Mar 13, 2014 8:44 AM CST
Have her plant leaf lettuce fairly heavily in the shape of the first letter of her name.

Show her how to 'snap' a snapdragon.

Tell her flower 'stories' -- here's a link to some, I'm sure there are tons more, but keep them very very simple. http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/mulets/flower/flower....

Teach her simple names of flowers and praise her when she can find/identify.

Press flowers.

Pull apart a pansy to show her the lady with her feet in the bathtub.

Radishes are an extremely early and reliable crop, try the Easter Egg mix.

Dip edible flowers in egg white then sugar and let dry - borage is easy for little fingers to manage.

I agree with the glove suggestion, and also small tools. If you can swing a tiny wheelbarrow, kids love to push those around. Or a wagon.

Easiest of all, just let her tag along with whatever you are doing and chat her up along the way.

My granddaughter used to help me garden, and I got a laugh out of her delight when she proudly pointed out the first 'bloody heart' one year.
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
Name: Jennifer
48036 MI (Zone 6b)
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jvdubb
Mar 13, 2014 10:00 AM CST
I remember small children visiting a farm I worked on. None of us will ever forget the little cutie who pointed to Queen Anne's Lace growing at the edge of the field and delightedly said "look mom, Queen Anne's Face!" Rolling on the floor laughing
Name: Tom Cagle
SE-OH (Zone 6a)
Old, fat, and gardening in OH
Coppice
Mar 13, 2014 10:34 AM CST
Two young person projects:

1., The weeding primer: I planted carrot and radish seed together on a bed with my eldest. We sprinkled on some dry grass clippings and watered.

As radish came up we would weed briefly to start. As radish got bigger we could weed a bit longer (still only a few minutes at a go). Soon radish were big enough to eat direct from the garden, and weeding had a pay-back that made slightly longer sessions work.

About the time all the radish had been picked out, carrots were coming on. They would need to be thinned (and eaten too). I had regular competition in keeping the carrot bed weeded-eaten.

2., Go big: nothing says gardening like going big. Be that a 20 plant block of sweet corn or a four some sunflowers. Pride of ownership can start early. Just keep the chores brief at the start.

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