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Tips and Tricks for Gardening with Wee Ones  RSS feed

 
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I realized we didn't quite have a thread about this.

We've got one about Getting children gardening and one about teaching permaculture to kids and integrating them into your gardens and one about timing having kids and starting a homestead and one about gear for gardening with kids and babies. But, there's not one specifically about how to keep kids out of your hair--and safe--while you squeeze out time in your garden.

So, here's a chance for us to all share our tips and tricks for keeping kids busy--gardening or not gardening--while you garden. I'll start! I have a three  year old rambunctious son, and a 9 month old little girl who loves to put EVERYTHING in her mouth.

For the Babies:

  • Large Blanket: Blankets are great for those under the age of one, especially when it's not rainy. You can lay them on the blanket and they can watch you hang laundry or pull weeds. When they start sitting, you put them sitting on the blanket surrounded with toys. My son never put things in his mouth, so I just made sure to sit him down somewhere without buttercup or other poisonous things and he would stay on his little blanket. Even when he could crawl, he would usually just stay on it, happy to watch laundry blow in the breeze. The kid LOVED watching laundry. My daughter loves to eat everything, so I use a really big blanket so she can't reach out and eat grass and clover constantly. Those aren't poisonous, but they sure don't do her belly any good. I honestly have multiple blankets in various parts of my property, each with weather proof toys on them, so I don't have to keep hauling around blankets and toys as well as a baby. This only really works during the dry season, though... As for what type of blankets, I found that the PUL diaper fabric you can get at fabric stores is great (I had some left over). It's not as environmentally friendly was wool or cotton, but the stuff is water proof, so I don't have to worry about the damp grass soaking the blanket and then the baby. Maybe a waxed cloth would work as well, or a felted wool blanket. I often just use a giant cotton sheet in the summer. Use what you have--it will probably be good enough!




  • Car Seat: These are great for little ones who are happy sitting but can't sit up by themselves yet. You can plop them in there with some dangling toys, weed or plant seeds or plant trees in an area, and then just pick the carseat/baby up and carry that little one to the next area to tackle. The car seat also comes conveniently with a little shade cover, which is nice for those sunny or drizzly days


  • Baby Carrier: This is great for babies and toddlers that love to get carried, or for when you're moving wheelbarrows of stuff around. Strap that little one on and work away.
    A back carry is much easier for digging and gardening than a front carry, but itty bitty babies aren't really safe on the back as you can't tell if they stop breathing. My son preferred being on the back. My daughter loves seeing my face, so she's usually on the front. I strap toys onto the carrier, too, to keep them busy, and to have toys ready for when I get to a new area if I want to put them down. A baby carrier is also great for cold and rainy days, as it acts as extra coat, and your body heat keeps them warm. Put some fuzzy boots, a cozy hat, and warm pants and you're good to go!


  • Pack and Play: I honestly never had one of these, but the idea seems really neat. Get a pack and play. Fill it with toys. Put it where you're going to be working. Insert baby. Put on extra crib sheet over the pack and play if it's too sunny or mosquito-y. Do your gardening without worrying about baby wandering off or chocking on a clover flower or eating duck poop.




  • Carrying Baby One Handed: This is seriously annoying to do, but it's been really necessary with my daughter as it's been too hot to wear her, and she fusses when I'm too far away. So, I carry her in my left arm and work with my right. I love my raised beds that are bordered by logs, as I often sit on a log with her in my lap while I weed one-handed. We do what we gotta do!




  • For The Toddlers/Preschoolers:


  • "Help" with Planting: Realize that the toddler/preschooler will not likely be able to really do much. They will likely plant all the pea seeds in one area. That's okay! If it's anything like with my son, those peas planted so close together will be the ONLY peas that grow. You can also give them cover crop seeds and let them throw them everywhere. Some areas will get lots of seeds. Some areas will get none. You can fill in the empty spot--the important thing is that your kids is not screaming at you, they're learning about planting, and you get to get stuff done. For the older preschoolers, you can make a little trench and tell them to put their seeds in it. Or, you can poke the holes for the peas/beans and let your kid put the seeds in and "tuck them in" with soil. If you do this, you can stand with a stick poking holes for the peas to go in and let your kid do all the bending. Win Win!


  • Children's Garden:  You can make fun archways and teepees to grow beans and squash and other climbing things. These make fun little shaded hideaways and forts. Mine failed last year, but maybe yours will do better! You can also make them their own garden bed. This probably works better with those 3+. We did that this year. I let my son go through the plant catalog and pick out seeds he was interested in. Some I told him just wouldn't work, but other's ended up being a great way to experiment and try new things. My son picked all red plants: red carrots, red beets, red green beans, beetberry, kuri red squash, fushias, strawberries, red huckleberries, nasturtiums, etc. His garden is actually the best producing garden this year!




  • Help with Digging: Give them shovel and let them dig dirt to cover your hugel, and then throw that dirt on the hugel. It won't work out quite the way you want, but they are busy and learning things. Alternatively, just give them a nice patch of dirt to have fun digging and scooping and raking and throwing rocks and breaking dirt clods. My son had a great time using my little cultivator/hoe to rip out weeds when I was readying an area for a potato patch. If you want to clear an area for a garden, you don't need a chicken or a rototiller--just let that toddler loose in it! You can even give little toddlers a shovel and they can help put the dirt back in a hole after you've planted a tree.




  • Play Equipment: Doesn't need to be fancy. You can get an old play kitchen from the thrift store for them to play with outside. You can put some pallets together in an upside-down V shape to make a climber. You can line your garden beds with logs for them to walk around on. You can lay out rocks and bricks and logs and wood rounds and old lumber for them to use as balance beams. We actually have a swing and a slide, but my son never uses them. He wants to play by me, so having the wood rounds as boarders for my garden beds works out great as he can play right there. Tricycles and "Flintstones" cars and other riding equipment are also fun


  • Big Toys: My son LOVES his big dump truck and he loves his wheel barrow. He loves just CRASHING these into most everything. We limit what he can crash into, but do give him things he can crash, and crash he does. He also hauls stuff around in them, but not that much.




  • Sidewalk Chalk Chalk doesn't just write on sidewalks, it writes on rocks and wood, too. My son isn't one for drawing, but he still has fun with his chalk. A kid that likes  drawing more would likely have even more fun


  • Sicks Bamboo or other sticks are great. My son loves poking holes in the ground, pretending to go fishing, and smacking things with his stick to see which breaks first. He also loves pretending its a machete and goes hacking at plants. So, we direct him toward hacking at our grass and our invasive blackberries and the giant, ever-encroaching hedges of salmonberries.




  • Snacking: My son LOVED to eat dandelions. He forages for those flowers and spends a lot of time eating them. Then he's all about picking strawberries and thimbleberries and raspberries, and blueberries, and tomatoes and radishes and peas and chive flowers. He knows what's edible, and what's not, and to ask about things he doesn't know about. I love that he eats while I'm gardening. I know he's getting his fruits and vegetables that he might not want to eat when we're inside. I also don't have to spend as much time preparing food for him because he's getting his own food. And, he's busy, so I can work!


  • Hose or Watering Can: You can let them water, knowing that a lot of things won't get watered right or will get watered that don't need to be. But, hey, they're busy! Or, put that hose on a trickle and let the kid play. My son loves making streams in the drive way. I try to direct him to watering the garden...or at least the lawn. But, most of the time I just can't care and I let him have fun learning about water flow. He also loves spraying the duck poop off of our patio, which works out pretty well for all of us, LOL!




  • Giant Pile of Woodchips: See if your local tree trimmers or power company will deliver free woodchips. Then let your kids have fun climbing on it and scooping it and dumping it.
    Be aware, though, that some of the spores and dust can be bad for lungs, so you might want to limit their time playing in the woodchips.




  • Water Play! I seriously kept my son busy for HOURS every day by having a bucket that he could drop whatever he wanted into. It was his giant sink/float tub, and he loved splashing in it, retrieving things, scooping and dumping and learning about physics. Remember, of course, that a kid can drown in a bucket of water, so either (A) Watch them like a hawk, or (B)Wait until they are older/can swim before giving them a bucket. In the winter, if it freezes, give the kid a shallow tray that can freeze over. They can spend hours trying to crack the ice, slip on the ice, dump the ice out, throw the ice around, etc, etc, etc


  • Well, those are all I can think of at the moment. What are your favorite tips and tricks for keeping kids busy?
     
    gardener
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    I can honestly say that shortly after I turned four, my parents had the seed catalogs. I looked through and picked what I wanted, gave them my own money to pay for the seeds. Then when they started flats indoors I had one too and put my stuff in. When we planted the garden I helped and had my own piece to plant my plants in. They watered but I had to help weed. When my stuff was ripe I picked it and mom cooked it up and I ate it. (Okay it was a Gurney's Jumble packet but they helped me count out my piggybank money and what everything cost... I could have bought a couple of packets of something else.) So I say I've been gardening since then.

    Toddlers love to help. Bugs, worms, dirt, and water. Gotta love it. Smaller ones, those baby cage things are GREAT. Kid stays confined, and yes put something over the top for bug control! Also make really sure about ants anywhere nearby. It's never too early to expose your kids to gardening.
     
    Nicole Alderman
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    That's awesome that you were gardening at such a young age, and even more awesome that you kept at it. It give me hope that I can instill that same love of nature and growing things in my own kids.

    Calling the pack and play a "baby cage" made me laugh so hard. Before we had kids, my husband and I used to joke that we would need to build cages for our kids, since we were both crazy kids and we figured the craziness would be magnified in our kids, LOL! This also reminds me of how my grandma used to put a holster on my dad when he was a kid and put a leash on it that connected to the laundry line. She lived on a busy street and didn't want to worry about him running into the street. With the leash, she could put him outside to play without having to worry. Supposedly, he really didn't mind, but the picture of him on a leash just makes me laugh inside. You do what you gotta do as a parent to get things done, I guess!
     
    Nicole Alderman
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    I found some other websites that have suggestions on how to homestead/garden with little ones.

    Just Plain Marie (https://justplainmarie.ca/homesteading-with-young-children/) has an excellent and hilarious article about homesteading with little ones. She mentions the hardships, some tricks, and some of the things a little one can help with at various ages. My favorite quotes:

    Just Plain Marie wrote:Laundry on the homestead is not sorted by colour but by “Dirty”, “Ground-In Dirt/Muck” and “I wonder if boiling will help?”



    So very true! My son loves to go in our big shed that has a dirt floor and throw dirt around so much that he's coated head to toe in the stuff!

    Just Plain Marie wrote:Why are you homesteading? The answer is likely that you are doing it because of those messy little ones that slow you down and destroy your productivity. No matter what you’re raising on your homestead, and no matter where it’s located, remember that your number one crop, your most important harvest, will be your children.




    Family Food Garden (https://www.familyfoodgarden.com/kids-gardening-101/) has great article called Gardening with Kids 101. She mentions giving them a basket to go around collecting food, making "fairy soup" (give them a bucket of water and some sticks and they can go around finding flowers to put in their "fairy soup"), and a LOT of other neat tricks.

    Family Food Garden wrote: I’d like to tell you that all gardening with children is this magical. The days are full with fresh food, little hands harvesting and carrying baskets and preparing food together. In reality it’s both the magic of days like this mixed with a little chaos that makes gardening with babies and young children an enjoyable but challenging adventure.



    So true!
     
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    Thank you for all your suggestions!  The snacking and water play have worked for us.  For the latter, an old under-bed plastic storage container without its top, filled with 1" of water, was great when my child was about 2.  For snacking, plant some sorrel!  I have been amazed how much my child and her friends love sorrel.  Raw kale is good too.  Hiding a few alpine strawberry plants here and there lets them search for a sweet snack among the leaves.

    The sandbox has been helpful, too, and can be combined with water for more fun.
     
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    I have trails amongst the wild plants.  One child loves the rotary mower and takes care of trail upkeep.  There is a ragweed jungle.  A sand area.  Kiddie pool and trampoline.  And they help grow as they wish or not. 
     
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    get a batch of baby chicks.  hours of fun and mostly harmless.

    gold fish in a kiddie pool are also great.  you can move pool to wherever you need to work.

    my little guy has had his own marked off patch of garden every year since he was two.   ( bigger every year)  He does whatever he wants in there.   He can plant it with seeds one day, bulldozer and excavator the next and flood it after that.   stuff still comes up and he has a ball.  ( hours of me getting stuff done)  I get to have solid boundaries and rules in my garden and he has complete freedom to play in his. 

    Growing trays of micro greens is a great way to get kids to eat greens.   I turn the kids out in the green house first thing in the morning to graze the flats of micro greens.    They are warm so they are  happy to be outside and I can get all my zone one chores done and can keep an eye on them.
     
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    Kid-friendly veggies and berries are a great way to get them excited about going out and "helping".

    But it's important that they learn what they can or can't eat . . . you don't want 3 year olds just going out there and putting anything in their little mouths.  You've got to teach them what bushes they can pick from and which ones to leave alone.  I don't have anything in my yard that would be poisonous but you still need to teach the kids which ones they can pick from.

    Kid-pleasers:

    Blueberries
    Raspberries
    (really, almost any berry is a treat)
    Sugar-snap peas
    Cherry tomatoes
    Cherries
    Plums
    Satsuma mandarines (super easy to peel)

    And if you want to pair your garden time with reading time, "Blueberries for Sal" was one of our kids' favorite books.  They'd come in from the yard after helping me, and want us to read them that book: they knew that sound of a blueberry hitting the bottom of their little tin pail -- "Kaplink, Kaplunk".

    I can't wait for grandkids so we can do it all over again.  "Come help Papa pick for dinner!"


     
    Nicole Alderman
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    Marco Banks wrote:
    But it's important that they learn what they can or can't eat . . . you don't want 3 year olds just going out there and putting anything in their little mouths.  You've got to teach them what bushes they can pick from and which ones to leave alone.  I don't have anything in my yard that would be poisonous but you still need to teach the kids which ones they can pick from.



    I dealt with this yesterday and today! My daughter is 16 months old, and--unlike my son--loves to put everything in her mouth. She'd gotten past most of that during the winter, so for a while she was just eating the kale she knew was food. Then her brother showed her that sage is edible, and some lightbulb went off in her head that she could go eat ANY leaf. Yesterday, I turned around and saw her chewing on something. We were by the duck yard, not the garden, and there's lots of creeping buttercup around. I ran over and inspected her hands and--yep!--she was munching on buttercup! I removed it from her fingers and swiped it from her mouth. I thank God she didn't try to eat the foxglove leaves that were also in that area! So, now I'm watching her like a hawk, and trying to make sure she only eats the edibles... Of course, then I showed her chives to eat, and a few minutes later she was standing by some rushes, yanking at them and crying because they wouldn't pull up so she could eat them!

    (My misson tomorrow is to remove all foxglove--I never planted the stuff, it just grows like a weed. My son was really good about avoiding anything he didn't know was food, especially if I called it "Blegh." I'm not so sure about my daughter, and really don't want to take chances with the foxglove)
     
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    I think ways of gardening with the really wee ones was covered pretty thoroughly. So I kinda just wanted to add...let the little ones dream a bit, and encourage the ideas-even if some of them seem a bit crazy.  Gentle molding of ideas instead of just  a "no" will help them learn independence.
      Last year my 8 and 6 year old wanted to build an undeground fort for their older sister for her birthday, it was one of those points where I wanted to look at them like they were crazy...instead I asked them to tell me their plans. They were so enthusiastic about it I told them they could do it on 2 conditions that they move the planned spot a bit (their idea was to build it right under my veg garden!) and if it wasn't finished in a month or two they wouldn't complain about filling it back in.  They agreed and set to work.  They had a wonderful week or so of digging and planning, and made an impressive hole-which stayed that same size the rest of the summer. When we were doing our fall clean-up I had them fill it in which they did as agreed while reminiscing about how fun it was to dig it, and making plans for an even bigger underground fort at their Nana's.
      I guess the point is...it's easy to stifle creativity without even realizing you did that, and if we want our kids to work with us they need to be listened to with respect for their ideas- even if they don't work out they can provide great memories and build trust and communication.
     
    Nicole Alderman
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    As I was out gardening today with my 4-year old and 1.5 year old, I realized how important it is to have something by each garden bed for them to do. My kids love to follow me around...and then start digging in the garden bed or climbing over it, or fighting with each other because they don't have anything to do. So, I try to have something for them to do by me, like digging up the path rather than the garden!

    I've also noticed that my "zone 1" area of intensive gardening is nearby all their toys and playset. While they're playing, I can weed and get stuff done...but if I try to walk too far away, I can't see them, or they start fighting or needing me. I end up spending most of my time by their play area. I think it's important, if you have small kids, to really incorporate their play into your garden, and have their play area near your work area. They learn more about what you're doing...and they are busier and happier so you can get more done!
     
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    Just Plain Marie wrote:
    Laundry on the homestead is not sorted by colour but by “Dirty”, “Ground-In Dirt/Muck” and “I wonder if boiling will help?”

    Both me and hubby laughed out loud at that.

    I found juice popsicles are magical entertainment.

    Planting and weeding with small ones I'm not fully successful at yet. However gathering and shelling peas, plucking tomatoes, and berries works as involvement activities. Root veggies are fun too.  I would loosen them and give my daughter the last tug.  I guess you could do that with some weeds.

    I would give shovel rides to my daughter when breaking ground.  (She stands on the partially buried shovel while I wiggle it back and forth).

    Gathering wood chips and rocks from suppliers or trips to the garden center also are easy work together tasks. She'd find pretty wood chips or take the "elevator" down the dirt pile.

    When she was younger she would "rescue" earthworms (aka wormies) and make a home for them in a container with some dirt. We'd release them later. 

    Pretty much anything having to do with the hose gets kid attention.  Not that they can efficiently water,  but hose spray limbo or jump rope still gets the plants watered.

    Catching butterflies and other bugs is something I grew up doing, but we don't have many here.

    I second the sidewalk chalk.  You don't need sidewalk to colour things harmlessly.

    A watering canister for them to water the plants or whatever they feel needs watering.  Nice and inefficient, but with lots of "rain". Spray bottles of clean water are also fun.

    Have them gather flowers.

    As for goldfish on the kiddy pool, tried that.  Bad idea. Kiddie pools= lots of stomping and splashing, which shocked/trampled/killed the fish in about 2 minutes. A pond where the fish can escape is good, but then you must supervise against drowning.

    But, the kiddie pool is good, add long as your okay with it turning into an herbal concoction/ mud mask, I've found.

    As for my new little one,  the most frustrating thing is trying to adapt him to the out doors after 3 months of unsafe winter temps and it being the boundary of spring.  What I've found working so far is:

    1. prep first so I'm affective. 

    2. i wear him in a sling covered by a large jacket and then maybe an Afghan as a screen.

    3. Patience. It's better for me to wait for the right moment than fight for the wrong one. The dirt doesn't care if it's shoveled now or an hour from now after the nap.

    4. Hand off. I can shovel one handed, plant one handed,  even conquer most dishes,  but I can't use the circular saw or sledgehammer  with a baby. The baby could use some time away from mommy at some point anyway,  so that's when those dangerous two-handed things happen.

    5. have the right gear. Up until little dude I had double- knot tie garden  shoes.  With a lo, that's a huge inefficiency.  I also just carried my supplies in my hands.  I'd also crouch or squat ackwardly to avoid my knees getting in mud. So now I've got myself slip- on mud boots, a utility belt (a full apron would interfere with the baby carrier) and some knee pads.



     
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