It’s mid-summer, which means gardens are starting to produce an array of colorful delicious vegetables. Getting your children involved with gardening can develop into a wonderful outdoor family activity. When children are active participants in the planning, growing and harvesting of garden vegetables, they are usually willing to eat them also. The harvesting stage is usually what young children get the most excited about. This is a great learning experience for children. When you teach children to help with the garden harvest, there will certainly be fun times and laughter all around! Here are some fun tips on how to make garden harvesting with young children a fun and productive activity.
- Make it part of your daily routine. When your garden begins to ripen, it will happen quickly. Find five minutes each day to check in on your garden plants. Observe with your children how much they have grown and how they have changed. It is important to check it every day to prevent missing out on produce. To get children involved, ask them to remind you and make it part of your daily routine.
- Give them a basket or a bucket. Carrying a basket full of produce back to the house is such a fun and rewarding activity for children. Whether your harvest consists of bushels of produce or only a few tomatoes, children enjoy helping in this process. Picking something they helped plant and grow is rewarding and fun!
- Use descriptive language. Of course, you want to be sure your children only harvest vegetables that are ripe and ready. So be sure to explain what is ripe and ready to pick in words they understand, like “only the bright red tomatoes”, and “summer squash the size of your arm from your elbow to your wrist”. Using colors and size gives children a very concrete way to know exactly when a vegetable is ready to be picked.
- Be gentle. When children are picking produce, remind them to be gentle. Vegetables can be easily bruised, so it is important to gently pick them and place them in the basket or bucket. Show them the proper way to pick the ripe vegetable without harming the plant or vegetables that are not ready to harvest yet.
- Watch where you step. Gardens can be tight to maneuver in, so try to have clear walkways where children are harvesting. Remind them to watch carefully where they step so they do not step on the vegetables and plants.
- Then get them involved in the kitchen. Children can help wash the fresh vegetables in preparation for eating them. Provide children with a child-sized cutting board and a plastic child vegetable cutting knife, and teach them how to cut up the vegetables. Remind your children how excited you are that they get to eat new foods that they helped grow and harvest themselves!
- Enjoy the bounty of the season and have fun harvesting your garden with your children!
Author: Vicki Starks, Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative Early Childhood Education Associate for Fayette County.