Gardening with Kids

There are numerous benefits to gardening. Teaching children to garden is even more valuable.

Mycobacterium vaccae a nonpathogenic species of bacteria that lives naturally in soil has been found to release serotonin which helps elevate mood and decrease anxiety, which is great because kids love getting dirty and helping out.

Gardening improves social skills and behavior, increases science achievement scores, appreciation and respect for nature and improves life skills. Gardening can also be a bridge to teaching children about nutrition, responsibility, and self-control. As a homesteader, permaculturist and teacher I encourage you to help teach your kids how to grow their own food.

Hands on Engagement

Hardy crops that are easy to grow and mature early keep interest high, as there is something to look forward to daily, early on.

Plant cherry tomatoes instead of beefsteak tomatoes, or Mexican sour gherkins (they look like tiny watermelons) instead of full size cucumbers to get desired results fast. Having positive results the first couple of rounds, will boost self-esteem.

Giving children ownership of specific spaces in the garden will help with engagement. Letting them help build the beds, shovel the compost or till the soil will create a sense of buy-in. If the raised beds are made out of cement blocks, have your children paint the outside to make the space special. Allowing the kids to choose what plant location in the garden will also increase their investment into the project.

“When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.” Psychologist Jean Piaget

Stimulate the Senses

Edibles such as nasturtium, calendula, day lilies or hibiscus are easy to identify and good to start out with. Adding a touch of whimsy through garden art is another fun way to motivate kids to partake in the satisfying pastime of gardening. Growing vegetables with a twist such as purple cauliflower, yellow carrots, mottled beans and tropical fruit will create inquiry for even the most oppositional worker.


Children will help garden more as they become excited about what is growing. Keeping a daily record of the length of a Chinese long bean is not only fun but helpful for next year’s planting schedule. Many young kids in urban and rural settings, have no idea how vegetables grow or the taste of a passion fruit or Chinese winged beans directly from the garden.

Exploring fairy gardens, home-made plant signs, hidden gardens and homemade toad houses on the internet will also give your children inspiring garden ideas.

Foster a Sense of Efficacy

Explaining what you are doing and why you are doing it will also help keep your children involved. When presented with a problem, question or activity, children asks themselves almost immediately, “Can I do this?” Researchers have said that effectively performing an activity can positively impact subsequent engagement. If you have been successful in the past, you will want to be interested in similar future activities. If the child believes they can’t perform the task, they will disengage and become uninterested.


Saying “Wow, you really worked hard, you kept at that project until you got it right,” encourages a growth mindset because you’re teaching the child that being able to stick to something and work through a difficult task is important – possibly more important than knowing the answer immediately.

My hope, by encouraging a growth mindset, is that I can turn extrinsic motivation into intrinsic.  In this way, they will not only know why homesteading is important but also feel inspired to do so.


Providing kid sized tools will empower them to do gardening tasks correctly and safely. Allowing choice in the garden will create more buy-in from the kids which will result in better work ethic. Permitting them to make a mess and not getting upset when they trample some of the seedlings while they are planting is also important. Stay positive and reward the behaviors you want to see.

Utilize Technology

Do you or a loved one suffer from nomophobia –  the fear of being without a mobile device? So do many of our children, which we can use to our advantage. Since mobile devices are in their hands already, have the kids use the devices to participate in gardening – after all there’s an app for that.  Gardening apps can assist with the planting, spacing or identification of your next countryside adventure.

App Name Description
Garden Designer Before planting, digitally layout plants, buildings, paths, ponds or garden furniture.
Garden Squared Assists in planning and tracking of square foot gardens, patio container gardens, seedlings, staging, and raised garden beds. Details of every plot can be saved along with a journal entry/task tracker.
Gardenate Includes local planting calendar, ability to track plantings and predict harvest dates. Data including photos, can be emailed, saved as a PDF or shared with your other phones or tablets.
iScape Take a picture of your home and tap the screen to add curb appeal, such as trees, shrubs and planters.
Plantifier Crowd-source free app, that helps with identifying plants based on leaf or flower patterns.

This year I would like to start a community vegetable at my new middle school where I will be teaching science and agriculture. I started a DonorsChoose campaign if you would like to learn more or donate. Every bit helps! Here is a description of my proposed garden plan.

Agriculture, Aquaponics for Tampa Urban Students

My students need garden supplies to take them beyond the walls of the classroom to learn about ecology, sustainability and the importance of healthy eating.

My Students

The traditional bugle sound at our school begins the day! The homeroom bell rings and students and faculty stand at attention while the bugles play “The Morning Call.” This is probably the most unique tradition we have at the Home of the Bulldog. Throughout these years many excellent students have passed through our doors, experiencing the highest quality instruction, curriculum, and administration. Excellence in education is the BEST of our school’s traditions. We are a faculty and administration dedicated to the education of children. We are proud of our school and its traditions; we want you to share this pride with us.

My students are highly motivated, fun, and ready to learn how things grow.

Our school is an urban public school. Our students come from a urban area, with a variety of different economic backgrounds and experiences.

They are our future generation. This will be our first year having an edible, organic garden at the school. Being able to grow and produce their own food, for themselves, their families and those in need will be a lifelong skill that my students will use and recall.

My Project

Weekly my students will be maintaining the edible gardens inside and outside our school.

This grant opportunity will provide funding for the startup of a sustainable garden that our students can be charged with.

The organic compost and seedlings will will allow our students to give back to the community and coordinate with a local soup kitchen to provide food to those in need. Students will also be encouraged to eat the fresh produce and start a home garden with the skills they have learned at school. The AquaSprout Gardens, which will be housed inside the classroom will show students directly interdependence, a major concept in 7th grade science.

The garden will teach our students state standards including but not limited to genetics, heredity, human impact of the earth, the rock cycle, the important part plants play in food chains and webs, and stress ecological principles.

12166171_10208666867334934_662616963_nPlease consider donating to the project or sharing it with a friend! Happy gardening!

Kenny Coogan, CPBT-KA, is a pet and garden columnist and grows mostly edibles on his one acre homestead. He was awarded the Outstanding Florida Association of Science Teacher’s Beginning Teacher of the Year award for 2015-2016. Please search “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook to learn more about gardening with children.


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