I started hobby gardening around the same time I found out I was pregnant. With late season frosts that sometimes come back to back with early summer heatwaves, gardening in Dallas presents unpredictable challenges. Add on the whims of toddlerhood, and it’s time to let go of traditional gardening expectations.
While it’s good to do some research on which plants grow best, I take a more relaxed approach by viewing education as the true harvest. We’ve had seasons of wild success (18 delicious bell peppers from just a couple small plants our first summer), and plenty of times we forgot to check the weather before a trip out of town, only to return home to a ruined garden.
Along the way, I’ve learned from my mistakes and involved my toddler in the process as he grows (much more successfully than my garden).
Germinate Seeds Together
The best way to garden with your toddler is to start at the very beginning together. Sprouting seeds is usually an easy win and an excellenA t sensory play opportunity. We sit down at the table together, my toddler in his high chair, and talk about the different seeds we are going to sprout.
Tip: Many Dallas public library branches offer free seed libraries near the gardening books sections!
There are so many ways to use these moments for language development: Will the plants be big or small? Will they need lots or a little light? Will the plant flower? What color will it be? Since I am raising my toddler bilingually, I have a favorite rhyme I like to sing as we prepare and plant the seeds.
Learn About Gardening
While we wait for the seeds to germinate, usually anywhere from a few days to a week, we learn more about gardening. We like to explore A Tasteful Place at the Dallas Arboretum to dream about what we could grow and the best way to plant our seeds. We enjoy the free samples of whatever is in season, letting it inspire me to make use of the fruits and vegetables we hope to grow.
The library is also a good place to go both for serious books about gardening and garden themed children’s and picture books. We love anything by Eric Carle and the seasons collection by Susana Madinabeitia Manso.
I also use this time to sketch out a general idea of where we might plant our seeds, check predicted frost schedules, and note how much spacing each seed needs.
Dig in and Get Dirty in the Garden
When it’s time to plant, I direct my toddler but allow him to do most of the digging and planting. We use this time to talk about math together, like how deep to dig, counting and spacing seeds, and shapes.
Digging and playing in soil is, of course, some of the best sensory playtime! If we’re lucky, we’ll find worms and bugs that indicate healthy soil.
Every time we go outside in the backyard to play, we check on our garden. Sometimes we’ve been surprised with mushrooms or a toad taking up residence under our leafy greens. When we are, I pull out the Seek app to identify our visitor and learn more about our local ecosystem.
While I rely mostly on an automated irrigation system, Texas summers call for an extra dose of watering. This works out great because toddlers love watering plants!
Reap the Harvest
We also prune and harvest together, trying to give our plants the best chance at success. If the weather is calling for a frost or heatwave, I see it as a good time to pick some of the bounty. My favorite breakfast muffins call for zucchini and sweet potato. We were fortunate enough to use only zucchini from our garden last fall.
When a pest or unexpected weather destroys our labors, it’s an opportunity to talk about trying again. I think about what we’ve had success growing, what we enjoyed eating, and what we wish we’d grown when planning our next garden.
Do you garden with your toddlers? What are some of your favorite ways to bring them in on the process?
I do love to see the little ones get involved early with outdoor activities and especially vegetable gardening – a little dirt participation is good and healthy for children! And moms! Including, of course, the time spent together.
It’s scary to think that many kids have no idea about where their food comes from, much less how to survive without a supermarket.
Love this! So many ideas to do with my toddler.