Gardening Gifts for Kids

gardening gift guide

If you have littles in your life that love to garden, or you want to make a commitment to get your kids in the garden this next growing season, consider adding one or more of these items to your holiday shopping list! It would be fun to make your own gift set with a few of these items, collected together in a colorful TubTrug, and tied up with some garden twine.

  1. Real garden tools, in sizes just for little hands.
    Could you imagine trying to use a full-size shovel as a hand trowel? That’s what it must feel like for small children to use your garden tools! These brightly colored tools would be a welcome addition to any kid’s tool collection.
  2. Books in Bloom, Discovering the plant biology in great children’s literature.
    I absolutely love this book. It’s been on my bookshelf at work since my second day with KidsGardening. This book has lesson plans for grades preK-5, and is written for a teacher or home educator.
  3. Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children, by Sharon Lovejoy (KidsGardening Advisory Board member!)
    A dear friend of my mother’s gave me this book, because she knows how much I love to garden with my kids. It’s full of wonderful activities and ideas for gardening with kids.
  4. A plant tower.
    Perfect for setting up in a classroom near a window, or a sunny spot in your house, a plant tower will let kids start tender fruit and vegetables inside, or let them experiment with houseplants. Use code SCHOOL at checkout to purchase a plant tower from Flowerhouse for only $40!
  5. Garden-themed picture books.
    There are so many wonderful gardening-themed books for kids, this section could be it's own post! Here are a few favorites of mine and our garden educator, Christine.
    Diary of a Worm, by Doreen Cronin & Harry Bliss
    Enormous Potato, by Aubrey Davis
    The Littlest Gardener, by Emily Hughes
    Tops & Bottoms, by Janet Stevens
    The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss
    Bee & Me, by Alison Jay
  6. Seed packets in their favorite colors.
    Pop over to your local garden center, and choose easy-to-grow varieties of flowers or vegetables in colors your kid loves. Tending a garden of flowers–or even vegetables–full of favorite colors actually sounds like something I might want to do next year…
  7. Amaryllis bulbs.
    Amaryllis are so fun for kids because they grow so quickly! These are wonderful to brighten the indoors of any home or classroom. Bonus: Susan has a wonderful post on growing amaryllis with kids.
  8. A donation to KidsGardening.
    Using the garden as a hands-on teaching tool connects children with nature, helps them know where food comes from, and encourages environmental stewardship. A gift of $12 to KidsGardening will give one more kid the joy of learning through the garden next year.

What are some of your favorite gifts for little green thumbs? Share in the comments!

The Gift of Experience

Gift of Experience

Rachel Carson is one of my very favorite authors. In “The Sense of Wonder”, she recounts introducing her nephew Roger to the countless curiosities they encountered together in nature, “We have let Roger share in our enjoyment of things people ordinarily deny children because they are inconvenient, interfering with bedtime, or involving wet clothing that must be removed or mud that has to be cleaned off the rug.” She reflects that these moments experiencing the beauty and wonder of nature would “mean more to him in manhood than the sleep he was losing.” She wrote this in 1956.

Today, as I speak with educators I am hearing the term, “experience poor”, come up more and more. They tell me that their students are lacking the real-life experience that we know provides a critical frame of reference for understanding what they are being taught in school. And increasingly, classroom teachers are being asked to do so much that they feel they don’t have the time and resources to get children out of their chairs to learn through experience.

Yet we know—from so many studies—that we humans learn best through experience. Hands on education that is rooted in the local community fosters students’ connection to place, boosts academic achievement and improves environmental, social, and economic vitality.

Imagine trying to learn to master a recipe without a kitchen, measuring cups, or even ingredients. Or harder yet, imagine trying to learn that recipe with no prior cooking experience. This is what we are currently asking our children to do. They may memorize the recipe for a period of time, but they won’t learn to cook.

So many teachers I speak with are eager to help their students engage more in their lessons. And they know that inquiry, exploration, and experience are key to driving up those engagement levels. It might get messy. It might take longer. But hands-on learning is so worth the effort.

KidsGardening has launched a new grant program this year that will make it a little easier for teachers to encounter nature with their students. Our partner, The Klorane Botanical Foundation, is sponsoring a grant in Chicago, IL, Kansas City, KS, Los Angeles, CA, New York, NY, San Francisco, CA, and Washington, DC to build or expand garden classrooms students can get outdoors and learn with their hands in the dirt. The Budding Botanist Grant will help our youngest citizens learn about plants, explore their world and inspire them to take care of the life they discover in their local ecosystems.

Rachel Carson also said that, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it.” Let us each try to be that adult for at least one child and provide more opportunities for her/him to get out into the world and experience the joy of learning.

Growing Amaryllis With Kids

amaryllis with kids

Looking for a fun indoor gardening project to do with kids this fall? Try planting an amaryllis bulb as a home or classroom project. This enormous bulb is easy to plant and bring into flower, making amaryllis one of the most rewarding plants to force for winter blooms. The large, dramatic, trumpet-shaped blossoms that open atop tall stalks are perfect for decorating a holiday table or livening up a windowsill when the garden outside is at its bleakest. Bulbs become available in mid to late fall at garden stores or through mail-order catalogs, offering flowers in shades of red, pink, white and bicolors that will burst into bloom about 6 to 8 weeks after planting.

amaryllis bulbMembers of the genus Hippeastrum, tender amaryllis bulbs need to be grown as houseplants in most of the country. But in the warmest areas, such as Florida and southern California, they can be grown as landscape plants, which seems like such a wonderful thing. I love watching gorgeous amaryllis blossoms unfurl in limited numbers on my windowsills; imagine being able to watch a whole hedge of them come into bloom in your yard!

Those of us in colder climes need to start by choosing a pot that is only about 2 inches bigger than the diameter of the bulb. Using a light potting mix that drains well, set the bulb in the pot so that the top third of the bulb is sticking up above the level of the soil. Water it well after planting and move the pot to a sunny windowsill. Allow the surface of the soil to dry out before rewatering. Soon you’ll see a little tongue of green emerging from the top of the bulb, usually in about 4 weeks, as the bulb emerges from dormancy. After growth starts, keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy, and feed with a complete houseplant fertilizer every 2 weeks. Also be sure to rotate the pot a quarter turn every few days so that the flower stalk grows straight up; if you don't turn the pot, the stalk will bend toward the light. In a few weeks, you'll be enjoying the huge blooms that open at the top of the flower stalk. If your bulb is big enough, it will produce two flower stalks for a really big show.

amaryllisOne of the best things about growing amaryllis bulbs is that, unlike most other forced bulbs, they are easy to keep from year to year. With a little care you can enjoy many seasons of winter blossoms. Once flowering is finished, cut off the flower stalks close to the bulb (don’t be alarmed if some sap runs out), but allow the leaves to continue to grow and send food to the bulb to fuel next year's bloom. Give the plant lots of light, keep it watered regularly, and fertilize monthly with a complete houseplant fertilizer.  If you can, move your plant outside to a lightly shaded spot for the summer. Continue watering and fertilizing until late summer or early fall; then stop feeding and gradually reduce waterings until the foliage begins to yellow. Be sure to bring the plant back inside before there’s a frost. Cut down the fading leaves and give the bulb a rest period in a cool spot (55° would be ideal) for at least 10 weeks; then repot in fresh soil to begin the forcing process again. Only move to a larger pot size as the diameter of the bulb warrants. If you stagger the times you pot up or bring bulbs out of dormancy, you can have plants coming into flower from early to late winter.

Nothing beats the winter doldrums better than a potful of stunning amaryllis in full bloom on your windowsill. Here’s a fun fact: the word “amaryllis” comes from the Greek word amarysso, meaning "to sparkle.” Plan now to add some floral “sparkle” to your schoolroom or home when the days are cold and short.

Youth Garden Grant Memories

successful year in the school garden

Every year when the new Youth Garden Grant application comes out, I think back to the first youth garden I helped with in a significant way. While I was in graduate school, I volunteered in a local classroom one morning a week, providing a short program and seasonal gardening activities. The school was unique in that it was part of a our local school district, but it was comprised of one main classroom teaching kids ages K-12 and was located at a shelter for kids who had been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. Some of the kids were there for a very short time before getting placed in foster homes, while others were there much longer because it was not safe for them to be in foster care for various reasons. The garden was in a courtyard of a highly secured building without any kind of markings on the outside. Since I never knew how many kids would be there or what ages they would be, I always had to plan for the full range of ages and bring extra supplies.

Working in small groups, we usually began with a short lesson or activity inside, and then we would go outside to work in the garden. The garden area consisted of eight vegetable beds, two compost bins and one large butterfly garden shaped like a U (Photo above. Sorry about the quality; this was taken in the pre-digital camera era).

Despite the challenges these kids faced, I can honestly say in the two years that I volunteered there there were only a few instances where I felt like our garden time was different than any other classroom. The kids were always excited about our activities and enthusiastic about everything we did in the garden. I was amazed at how engaged the kids were in the garden and by their expressions of joy when in fact most were dealing with circumstances that were beyond what I could even imagine. I never felt like I had to work to hold their attention, and I do not remember ever having to deal with any behavioral issues. After my volunteer time there, I was completely sold on the power of the garden as an educational tool.

I will be the first to admit that I probably learned as much, if not more, about gardening as the kids. Even though I grew up around gardens, I have to chuckle about some of the things I planned—like planting a raised bed of sunflowers against a fence that was not fitted to the ground so that all the soil washed away the first major rain we had; showing up to make butterfly baths without anything to stir the concrete mix with; drilling holes in the bottom of our worm bin without putting a tray under it to catch any over flow… I could go on and on. Fortunately for me, the classroom teacher at the shelter had a heart of gold and was so patient with me as I learned what worked and what did not. I like to think the kids enjoyed the fact that I did not know everything and was learning along with them.

So, circling back to the Youth Garden Grant. While I was volunteering at the shelter garden, with the help of the kids we applied for and received a Youth Garden Grant. This was when I got to see the magic of receiving national recognition for a youth garden program. The kids were so proud of their work, especially the ones who had helped write the grant—it was like Christmas when all of our award products were received! As great as the prizes were, it was the recognition we received that made the biggest impact. For the staff and myself it felt like a thank you for all of our hard work keeping the program going. Plus, after receiving the grant, we also received additional funding from the school district and the shelter specifically for the garden. It also led to additional donations of plants and soil. Those of us closely involved had seen the benefits and rewards of the program first hand, but all of a sudden administrators who were not directly involved saw its value and wanted to help. It solidified the program in a way that I had not anticipated, and I am happy to say that the garden continued long after I had graduated and moved on.

KidsGardening (prior to 2016 as an initiative of the National Gardening Association) has been offering Youth Garden Grants since 1982. It is the absolute highlight of my year to get to read all of the wonderful applications that come in … and honestly, the it's hardest thing not to be able to provide an award to every deserving program. The Youth Garden Grant is funded by the generosity of our individual and corporate sponsors. As a former recipient, let me just take a chance to say thank you to those of you who have contributed through donations in the past. I would also like to put in a plug to those of you considering end-of-the-year donations. Investing in KidsGardening helps fund programs like the Youth Garden Grants that both literally and metaphorically plant seeds in school and youth garden programs across the country. We help plant seeds of plants, seeds of learning, seeds of joy, seeds of hope, and seeds of love. Click here if you would like to find out more about giving to KidsGardening.