You can expose children to gardening even if you don’t have much space. Your space doesn’t actually need to be outdoors. A sunny window or corner on the front porch can be just enough sun to light up young eyes to the magic of growing. While plants themselves are pretty great, you can jazz it up a bit with simple recycled or common household items. These garden projects for kids will help YOU help your child learn more about gardening while upcycling some common household materials.
My own child’s pretty into gardens…. for about 5 minutes. He is mostly concerned with planting seeds in the soil. Beyond that, he likes to harvest veggies and to water everything with the hose. That is all wonderful, but I want him to learn patience and observational skills, both important life lessons easily taught through gardening. Sometimes a cutesy craft is all it takes to pique his interest.
I made this cartoony plant drip tray with an empty (and very clean) milk jug. I used a sharp knife and my “expert carving skills” to surprise him with this around Easter time. This one doesn’t have any drainage; we’re using it as a drip tray. If you want to use it as a planter, go ahead and put a drainage hole in the bottom. These work great some planting small herbs, annual flowers or even lettuces. Just some potting soil, a few seeds, and you have an easy classroom project. I’ve seen people line these up on patios or use them to decorate a raised garden bed with “animal friends”.
Some other great upcycle-able items that make great planters include big yogurt containers, small yogurt containers (for starting seeds), and old rubbermaid type totes. Make sure to add drainage to them. If you’re placing these on a patio, the tote lids make great drip trays for plants or even for compost systems like worm bins or tumblers. (You don’t want to stain your pavers!)
This may be the most functional upcycled project I have ever seen. You can easily start seeds or root cuttings from other plants in here, including herbs, sweet potatoes, and houseplants. Many people put cuttings in a little glass of water to root; that works for some plants but not all of them. Rooting in water also develops “water roots” which aren’t as strong as “soil roots” Your plant will be more likely to survive if you root it in soil. This example uses a 2-liter bottle – it’ll offer the most root space, but not necessary. Any plastic bottle will do just fine.
Peek-at-a-Plant Projects (pictures coming soon!!!)
Help make magic come to life by showing kids the hidden parts of the plant – the ROOTS! This is our favorite part. Get it? Living ROOTS Eco Design.
There are some really simple projects you can do to expose the roots of the plant.
This first one requires no special equipment. Bag-of-Beans just uses a sandwich sized Ziploc bag, a paper towel, a few dried beans from the grocery store, a tiny bit of water, masking tape and a window. Simply open the bag, insert a moistened paper towel folded into a “pocket” and a few bean seeds. Seal it up and tape it to a window. Watch to grow everyday. You could have your child draw and record their observations. Open the bag after several days and use it for hands-on science exploration.
This project could easily be upgrade to a mini-greenhouse. Just use moist potting mix instead of paper towel. You can use bean seeds or any other veggie seed. This is an easy compare and contrast activity. Because these plants were grown in soil, you can transfer them to a pot and see if they mature. You might get lucky if you’re carefully when transplanting them. PRO TIP: Open the bag with scissors on the sides to avoid damaging the roots.
You can also make your own Root Viewer from some recycled items you have at home. You’ll need a 1/2 gallon cardboard milk or juice carton, plastic spring mix (lettuce) box, tacky glue, duct tape and some potting mix. Cut the peaked lid off the carton, then thoroughly wash and dry the inside and outside. Follow the directions below, let the glue dry overnight, then fill with potting mix, water, and plant seeds or small plants!
Mine, mine, MINE….! We all know young kids like their own stuff. It gives them a sense of ownership. You can help them channel ownership into responsibility through gardening. If you have an outdoor area, these garden projects for kids might be a hit. A big flower pot full of herbs and child-safe plants offers a fun learning experience. You may even get to use some of the herbs. Maybe. The dinosaurs have eaten them all a few times in our “home jungle” and that’s okay.
If you have the space, a raised garden bed will hold a surprising amount of veggie plants. You can make them out of concrete blocks, wooden boards, or purchase one already made. A raised garden bed is usually open on the bottom. This allow plants to develop deeper roots than plants grown in containers. Learn more about container gardening in our self-paced online course.
This garden bed is a fairly inexpensive planter. It was about $50 and looks good enough for a front yard. It’s 2×3 feet – big enough to grow a few bigger plants like peppers or tomatoes and some herbs and lettuces or kale as well.
We drilled several holes in the bottom and the sides about an inch above the bottom of the kiddie pool. My child chose the plants he wanted to plant from a few seedlings that I had at home and some seeds he picked from the store. Notice the trucks and dinosaurs? They lived in the garden for a while.
We added some pine straw as mulch. This will help hold the moisture in and reduce the need for watering. The holes in the bottom will allow the extra water to drain out. Once the garden was mulched, he took out his toys – it was too difficult to play in there among the deeper mulch.
I will say that I made a mistake. I let HIM choose the plants from things I had purchased or started for my own bigger garden. It was easy at the time but his garden isn’t doing very well. No big deal – he’s proud of it and enjoys nurturing it. But, he’s missing out on the best part – the harvest. (Although his mint has really taken off!)
When we replant his garden for the fall I will:
- Remove the mulch and set it aside.
- Move out any salvageable plants that need more sun. (We located this garden in a fairly shady spot so he could play during the summer more comfortably.)
- Amend the soil with some compost.
- Pre-select a list of plants for him to choose from that are appropriate for the amount of sun and growing season and have shallow roots. For a fall garden in Florida, I will probably let him pick from little finger carrots, lettuce, radish, kale, and chard, nasturtiums, and herbs. I’ll stay away from tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers because they won’t thrive in this space.