Young children have a specialized knack for getting into mischief precisely where (and when!) it is least convenient. Although it is undeniably more efficient to create and fill a raised garden bed by yourself, the long term benefits of including children in the process far outweigh the temporary inconvenience of slowing down to educate along the way.
Why it matters
When you take the time to include your child in building a raised bed, you build a connection and trust with him that will extend into other areas of his development. You are educating your child about the natural world through kinesthetic learning while inviting him into the “grown up” world of building something that matters…and that is as powerful as it is beautiful.
There are as many different ways to include children in this process as there are personalities represented in the kiddos themselves! Here are three methods we love using with children under 5 years old, though I suspect these could be implemented quite successfully with older children as well.
A word of caution: as with anything in the garden, exploration within the boundaries of safety is essential. Power tools should not be left unattended, nor is it wise to allow particularly young ones around elements that could be potentially harmful (such as fertilizer pellets that could be easily ingested or a patch of poison ivy that has yet to be cleared). Working within the reality of children’s limitations and occasionally calamitous inclinations is crucial to set the stage for a good time for all!
Prep the soil together
If you are using bagged soil for your raised bed, invite your little helpers to tear into the bag for you! If you are mixing your own DIY blend, give the little ones child-sized tools to stir it up for you. Large mixing spoons or trowels are perfect for little hands! Explore the components of the growing medium. Do they see rocks? Pieces of bark? Encourage them to smooth the dirt with their hands or poke holes in it with sticks.
If you are preparing a raised bed that is greater than 2 feet in depth, consider adding organic fillers as a base that will decompose over time. This serves two purposes: filling your raised bed on the cheap and allowing kiddos with dirt-aversion a different opportunity to pitch in with the family! As they toss sticks, autumn leaves, or cut grass into the bed, explain how these items will eventually decompose and bring richness to the soil and the food grown in it.
Make it personal
Our favorite method for creating a sense of ownership in the garden is having children write their names on pieces of paper and then tuck them into the soil. We explain that the paper will decompose and become part of the earth that will provide nutrients to the plants they will grow in the raised garden. As young as they are, children understand that their names are inseparable from their identity. Incorporating their name into the earth instills an enormous sense of pride and belonging within their little hearts!
Since decomposition is part of this process, we forgo the typical stickers, brightly colored inks and paints, and other common art supplies preschoolers love using to decorate their artwork.
Protip: we love providing preschoolers with chances to familiarize themselves with the letters that form their name, but we also recognize that some kiddos just aren’t there yet. That’s ok! Encourage these children to draw a meaningful picture instead, something that matters to them. This works just as well in terms of personal investment because they are still placing a part of themselves into the ground.
If the preschooler is up to writing his name, don’t stress if the letters are backwards or misshapen. There will be plenty of time to course correct in the future, but overcorrection or stressing perfection right now is counterproductive to our goal of creating a positive connection between the little one and the garden.
Like the community barn-raising events of old, hard work deserves some celebration after the final tool is put away. Thank your child for all of her hard work and ask her opinion in how you should celebrate a job well done. Grab an ice cream cone together or snuggle up for a favorite episode of a TV show! You both created something special today- a new garden bed, and a new shared memory that will be foundational in her future exploration of the outdoors.
Creating a raised garden bed is an investment in the future, and incorporating young children in the process is a beautiful extension of that investment. By inviting them into the growing process and instilling a sense of personal investment in its outcome, you are planting confidence and connection within their little hearts while walking hand-in-hand with them into their future.
PIN FOR LATER!