Gardening activities for little green thumbs

Published on Tuesday, 17 September 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Article hero image

Gardening is an educational, stimulating, and interesting activity for children in early childhood services. Being outdoors and getting their hands dirty is not only fun but children can also learn new skills while they play as well as developing fine motor skills and self-confidence from growing their own food.

There are many different ways to include gardening in your early childhood curriculum with activities that children of all ages can enjoy and participate in. Let's look at a few ideas to get you inspired and learn some of the advantages of gardening for preschoolers.

Children learn from growing things

Gardening has benefits for people of all ages, but children in particular find it lots of fun and have plenty to gain from digging in the dirt. In addition to the positives of being outside in the fresh air and sunshine, gardening is highly educational and helps develop new skills such as:

  • Responsibility – from caring for and tending to plants.
  • Understanding – they learn about cause and effect (for example, plants die without water, weeds compete with plants).
  • Self-confidence – from achieving their goals and enjoying the food they have grown.
  • Love of nature – a chance to learn about the outdoor environment in a safe and pleasant place.
  • Reasoning and discovery – learning about the science of plants, animals, weather, the environment, nutrition and simple construction.
  • Physical activity – doing something fun and productive, that works fine and gross motor skills.
  • Cooperation – including shared play activity and teamwork.
  • Creativity – finding new and exciting ways to grow food.
  • Nutrition understanding – learning about where fresh food comes from.

Tips and ideas for engaging kids in the garden

Here are a few suggestions to make it quick and easy to offer opportunities for children to experience the magic of gardening in your early learning service:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Give children their own garden space if possible, this doesn’t have to be big and can be simply a large container or a few pots.
  • Involve older children in the planning and design of a garden.
  • Use lightweight, easy-to-handle, correct-sized tools and garden equipment.
  • Encourage children to dig in the dirt and make mud pies with their hands.
  • Grow interesting plants such as sunflowers, corn, pumpkins, tomatoes and strawberries.
  • Use a trellis or teepee to grow beans or sweet peas.
  • Plant flowers that attract butterflies, ladybirds and other interesting insects or birds.
  • Make a scarecrow.
  • Install a water feature, a birdbath or a sundial.
  • Set up a worm farm.
  • Visit community gardens, children's farms or botanic gardens for ideas.
  • Install a hive with native, stingless bees (ensuring there are no children with allergies first, however stingless bees are generally harmless to humans).
  • Create a magical fairy garden, rock concert, or dinosaur playground in a corner of the garden.

Child safety in the garden

While gardening is a lot of fun it's important that children remain safe at all times. Things to keep in mind as an educator are:

  • Ensure children are using the correct-sized tool and that there is nothing too sharp or dangerous.
  • Keep sprays and fertilisers out of reach.
  • Do not use chemicals. Garden organically whenever possible.
  • Provide safe storage for equipment and tools.
  • Secure fences and gates.
  • Provide shade in summer with umbrellas or shade cloth.
  • Make sure that children wear items such as a hat, sunscreen, suitable clothing and gumboots when gardening outdoors.
  • Don't leave buckets of water unattended around very young children and toddlers.
  • Supervise children at all times and advise them not to eat anything unless they're invited to try it by an educator (slugs and other bugs can be toxic along with certain berries and plants).
  • Teach them to be respectful and careful around insects and bugs (touching things like bees and caterpillars can harm both themselves and the creature).

What things to plant

Anything that grows quickly or is large, unusual or brightly coloured is usually a winner with young children – such as sunflowers, corn and pumpkins. It's a good idea to also consider using plants that have sensory and textural qualities too. A few good examples include:

  • Touch – woolly lamb's ear, succulents (such as aloe vera), bottlebrush species, snapdragons.
  • Taste – basil, strawberries, peas, rosemary, carrots, cherry tomatoes.
  • Smell – jasmine, sweet peas, lavender, pelargoniums, native mint bush, lemon balm.
  • Bright colour – daffodils, rainbow chard, marigolds, pansies, sunflowers.
  • Sound – corn, bamboo and grasses rustle against each other when the wind blows.

Specific activities for children in the garden

So, what types of activities and tasks can children do in the garden? Here are a few ideas:

  • Watering the garden – children love using watering cans and the hose.
  • Digging.
  • Picking flowers.
  • Planting vegetables, fruits and flowers in the correct season.
  • Feeding the worms and using the 'worm tea' from the worm farm as fertiliser.
  • Picking vegetables and fruits when they are ready to eat.
  • Preparing healthy food, such as making salads and helping in the kitchen.
  • Craft activities using harvested seeds, plants and flowers.
  • Composting, recycling and mulching.
  • Weeding.
  • Gathering seeds and dried flowers.
  • Deadheading flowers.
  • Replanting and re-potting.

Gardening beyond the outdoors

Don't forget that gardening doesn't always have to take place outside. There are many activities involving flowers and plants that children can do indoors on rainy days too such as:

  • Planting seeds in egg cartons or eggshells.
  • Watching seeds grow in jars or pots.
  • Examining plants or seeds under a microscope.
  • Creating a terrarium.
  • Making a garden sensory bin.
  • Growing vegetables in jars.
  • Making a bug house or ant farm.
  • Cooking or preparing food that’s been harvested from the garden.
  • Creating artworks using leaves, plants, flowers and sticks.
  • Painting pebbles and stones.
  • Doing a painting of an indoor plant or vase of flowers.
  • Make an indoor vertical garden.
  • Getting children to draw their own dream garden.

Thanks to Better Health for their fun ideas and helpful information around gardening for children which helped write this article.

Related Articles

Article image

Winter STEM Ideas

From cute arts and crafts to interesting STEM projects for development, integrating the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, here are ten winter themed ideas to keep little hands busy over these cooler months.

Article image

A case study in sustainability Setting up children, and the planet, for the future

The children at Learning Adventures Warkworth can teach many others a few things about sustainability.

Article image

Fun Father's Day craft ideas to make Dad proud

Here are ten fun Father's Day craft ideas to celebrate all the dads, grandfathers, godfathers and uncles out there.