Gardening with Your Toddler

This time of year, I am dying to get outside and get my hands dirty. Being an avid gardener for many years before I had my boys, my first spring with babies was a confusing time of what, exactly, do I do with this sweet cherub while I dig? A few attempts at putting baby on a blanket away from the action found my son wriggling over to the edge to get his hands in the dirt along with me, and I realized the wonder that is gardening with babies. I’m happy to share a few of my favorite tips for including the smallest member of the family in the garden patch.

Sensory Gardens

One easy way to include babes is to build a sensory garden. Adding a designated digging area with, say, a sand pit in a small corner of your garden is a perfect way to have them nearby. A few areas of different heights, like a log, a large rock, or overturned ceramic pots give different heights for pulling up, reaching, and textures to explore. Kids’ garden trowels, hand shovels or even an old soup spoon are a perfect digging tool for little hands as they can be easily manipulated in the dirt and used to pry small debris from the soil. For my boys, I prepared the area by removing any small rocks or pebbles that they could eat, making sure the area was safe.

Watch the temperature

The best times to garden with the little ones is when the temperatures are not too extreme–early to mid morning or late afternoon. I found it best to avoid the noon or early afternoon times to spare the little guys from getting overheated, sunburnt or just overly sweaty. Remember sunscreen (as long as they are over 6 months old) and a good sun hat. A natural bug repellant such as lavender oil can be useful to keep bugs away. Also, make sure a drink is available after gardening to replenish all that energy!

Prepare to get dirty! My son would get filthy dirty digging in the dirt by my side as I pulled weeds, crawling down a garden row through the corn, pushing dump trucks in the dirt, or using tomato cages to pull up and see what the blooms smelled like. Dirt will get in places you never dreamed of, but the experience of sensation, the wind on their face and being included in mom’s activity can bring everyone closer together. Research also shows that getting dirty benefits the immune system.

Gardening is so much fun to share with both crawlers and walkers–as much as I enjoy my garden, I find including my boys makes me enjoy it even more. My kids are more likely to try what we’ve grown together– they have a vested interest as they have watched the plants mature. Plus, you can never go wrong with fresh air, fresh dirt and sunshine.

Pia Watzig is a mom of two boys who lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. 

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