Spring has sprung, which is evident in the colorful blooms all around us and the stores overflowing with various plants waiting for a home. Gardening has often been touted as a therapeutic experience relieving stress, increasing vitamin D and offering exercise. Planting a vegetable garden with your child offers the same benefits along with allowing children to see how their food grows and take pride in helping to feed their family.
Research has shown that when children participate in growing edible plants, they are more apt to try not only the fruits and vegetables they grow but also other fruits and vegetables. Helping to plan, plant and tend a garden not only develops life skills, but also helps foster responsibility, independence, leadership, caring, teamwork and problem solving. Most children today, especially city dwellers, are unaware of where their food comes from or what it takes to grow food. Visiting your local farmer’s market is a start but actually growing the food you will serve will cultivate a relationship to the natural world, which in turn will help your child to wisely make future decisions that could impact nature.
Before beginning a garden you and your child should:
After planting, while you are waiting for your garden to flourish, think about offering your child coloring pages of the vegetables you have planted to help with identification and improve fine motor skills. A few options are a Dover Children’s Coloring and Activity Book such as Color & Garden Vegetables by Monica Wellington or Fruits and Vegetables Coloring Book by Lynda E. Chandler or look for coloring pages online. Also, think about reading some of the following books with your children to increase the fun and anticipation. Consider sharing the stories while sitting outside in your garden so the plants can enjoy the books too!
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Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert
Move through the alphabet and learn the different names of a variety of fruits and vegetables. The bold, colorful illustrations will help little ones learn to identify the fruits and veggies based on their shape and color.
Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert
This is a good choice for reading when you are getting ready to plant your vegetable garden and then to keep referring back to as the growing season progresses. It begins by depicting the tools needed to plant a garden and prepare the soil, then moves through the planting, tending and harvesting of the garden and ends with using the vegetables grown to make soup (a recipe is included). Your child will be able to identify with each phase as they help tend their own garden.
Rainbow Stew by Cathryn Falwell
Three children are visiting their grandfather, which is always so much fun because he lets them play outside all day. The children are so excited, until they notice that it’s raining. Will their outdoor fun be put off for a sunnier, drier day? Not at all! Grandfather gets everyone into their rain gear and the group happily sets out to gather the vegetables needed from grandfather’s garden to make rainbow stew (the recipe can be found in the back of the book)! When read aloud, this story has an almost musical quality to it. The rhyming text flows beautifully and the occasional use of onomatopoeia makes the words come to life. Also, children will get an introduction to colors and different vegetables.
Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming
Mr. McGreely has finally decided to plant a garden and cannot wait to enjoy the yummy veggies he grows, but three hungry bunnies keeps getting into Mr. McGreely’s garden and munching his veggies first! Mr. McGreely takes action, putting up a fence, building a wall, digging a trench…all to no avail. Those clever bunnies keep getting in, until Mr. McGreely builds the biggest something and locks up his garden tight. The repetitive language, unique vocabulary, fun sound effects and clever illustrations will make this one an instant hit for the whole family and the surprise ending will definitely incite some giggles. This story may also spark a discussion on protecting your own garden from the furry critters in your backyard. *(Reading this story makes us think of Aaron Reynolds’s Creepy Carrots. Share the stories together and then discuss their similarities and differences with your child.)*
My Garden by Kevin Henkes
An imaginative little girl talks about her dream garden, from simple things like continually blooming flowers to more outlandish features such as rabbits that don’t eat the lettuce because they are made of chocolate and the little girl eats them instead! This is the perfect book to read aloud when starting a discussion with your child about what to plant in your own garden. What would your child’s dream garden be like?
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
A little boy plants a carrot seed. Everyone keeps telling him, “I’m afraid it won’t come up.” Regardless, the little boy does not give up hope and tends to his little seed every day, until his hard work is finally rewarded, in a very big way. This is a beautiful, simple story about persistence, patience and the value of hard work. Share this one with your child to help them understand the need to tend to their garden every day.
10 Hungry Rabbits by Anita Lobel
Count along as ten hungry little rabbits go out to the garden to find scrumptious things to add to Mama’s soup pot. Simple text and charming illustrations introduce little ones to numbers from one to ten, a rainbow of colors and a smattering of vegetables too.
How Does My Garden Grow? by Gerda Muller
Sophie is a city girl and has always gotten her vegetables from the supermarket, but then she spends a summer at her grandparent’s home in the countryside. While there she learns all there is to know about gardening, from planting to weeding to composting and so on, which inspires her to start her own garden back home on her balcony the following year. Lush illustrations make this book a visual feast and the story is full of information on gardening that is sure to inspire readers young and old alike.
The Giant Carrot by Jan Peck
This story is a Western take on a traditional Russian folk tale, The Giant Turnip. Little Isabelle’s family plants a carrot seed and tall Papa Joe, wide Mama Bess and strong Brother Abel all help tend the little seed. But, when Little Isabelle wants to lend a hand too, Brother Abel just laughs and asks, “What can you do?” This does not deter Little Isabelle from doing what she can to help the little carrot seed grow. In the end, the family gets quite the surprise when that little carrot seed reaps one huge reward. This story highlights the importance of working to help a garden grow. Amp up the reading experience by using your best Texas accent with this one!
Sylvia’s Spinach by Katherine Pryor
Sylvia’s Spinach tells the story of young Sylvia, who hates spinach. When her teacher gives her a packet of spinach seeds to grow as part of a class project, Sylvia is less than thrilled, but dutifully plants and cares for the spinach seeds. Eventually, her spinach is ready to eat and she carefully tried a bite and comes to realize that spinach isn’t really so bad after all. The moral of this story: trying new things is good!
Zora's Zucchini by Katherine Pryor
Zora’s Zucchini begins with Zora receiving a free zucchini plant from her local hardware store, which she takes home and plants. As the summer progresses, Zora’s zucchini plants just keep growing and growing, producing more and more zucchini, far more than her family can eat. Zora then comes up with an idea for a Garden Swap and the whole neighborhood begins sharing the fruits and vegetables that they have grown. This story is a reminder to not waste food and, when able, share your bounty with others.
Rah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre
It’s time to cheer for vegetables! This boisterous, rhyming book is filled with colorful photographs of an array of vegetables. Full of actions words and lots of exclamation marks, this chant jumps right off of the pages and begs to be acted out and shouted out loud. “Rah, rah radishes! Red and white. Carrots are calling. Take a bite!"
Happy gardening and reading!
We are mom Sandra and daughters Amanda and Kate, all with backgrounds in literacy and education, who want to share our philosophy of taking the basics of life; books, simple toys that encourage play, imagination and creativity, and using cooking and baking to teach math and real life skills to raise happy, inquisitive children. Join us in exploring the old and the new and sifting through the myriad of research to consider what is best for our children.