father and son digging dirt for planting flowers in backyard garden.

Easy Ways to Begin Gardening With Kids

The best part of gardening: finding a ripe tomato or a snap pea and eating it straight off the vine. And sharing this joy with your kids makes it twice as nice.

Our family finds much joy in gardening together. It gives us a great way to connect outdoors, so I was happy to interview Cathy James about her book, The Garden Classroom: Hands-On Activities in Math, Science, Literacy, and Art.

Cathy explains how anyone can get started in the garden!
Garden Classroom Give you Easy Ways to Get Started Gardening With Kids

Getting Kids Involved in the Garden

I’m a mum of two girls and I ran the gardening club at my daughters’ school. I’ve been growing things with them since they were toddlers, like sunflowers and strawberry plants, so they have grown up with their hands in the soil, using materials from the garden in their play, and knowing where their food really comes from.

We love how gardening connects us to the seasons and gives us a rhythm to our year, and I think that we all just feel happy in the garden – just fundamentally knowing that nature is the place we belong. Heading outside can instantly transform our day and pick up all our moods. The girls love to spot the bugs in the garden – worms are their favorite! – and love being able to pick things to eat, right outside the back door.

What if you “don't have a green thumb”? 

Gardening can definitely seem so overwhelming at first, when you’re looking at seed packets and hearing about soil conditions or all the equipment that’s available. Too much choice is too much. Either it stops you in your tracks and you don’t know where to start, or you go all out and spend too much money buying things you don’t have the time to nurture or the space for.

Focus On Benefits and Relax

What I want to do is encourage people to just relax and give it a try. The benefits of gardening with children are wonderful and wide ranging, so I hope people will be guided by the easy how-tos in the book and give it a go. I like to keep things simple and small at first, and just have fun with it.

Involve Kids in Choosing Plants

I like to invite the children to pick one thing they want to grow – often it’s something they like to eat, or a plant with a name that appeals to them. My daughter picked snapdragons, just because she loves dragons.

The Biggest Mistake Is Not Trying at All.

Even if you only grow sunflowers, or a pot of herbs, or have a strawberry plant, you'll have a whole year of growing and learning right there. You can follow your plant right through the seasons, and use all the activities in the book to support lots of play and creative learning alongside.

A Good First Gardening Plants

My top five plants to grow with children are:

  • tomatoes,
  • potatoes,
  • sunflowers,
  • nasturtiums
  • and lettuce.

I’ve chosen these because they offer such a good, complementary range of gardening experience: food and flowers, big and small, things happening on the plants and underground, and a full cycle of things to see and do through the gardening year. In the Garden Classroom I show you how to plant them, nurture them and then enjoy your own homegrown harvest. Nothing beats eating a freshly picked, home-grown tomato!

Fun Planting Activity

There are also some fun, whimsical planting ideas that you can use too. These are great if you really do have limited space, or if you’re working in a classroom, or if you’re running a gardening club and you want something the children can take home with them.

Garden Classroom Free Egg Head Activity from Book

The Egg Heads project is one of my girls all-time favorites and something we grow every spring, just because they are so cute and fun!

Check out this preview of The Garden Classroom, and grab your own copy to get digging and growing with your kids!


From The Garden Classroom by Cathy James, © 2015 by Cathy James. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston, MA. www.roostbooks.com
Alissa Zorn stands near a pond with an orange shirt on wearing a black button down over that.
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Alissa Zorn is an author, and founder of the website Overthought This. She's a coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa is certified through the International Coach Federation and got her Trauma-Informed Coaching certification from Moving the Human Spirit. She wrote Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection, and is always following curiosity to find her next creative endeavor.