Why garden with kids?

| General

Why garden with kids? This is a question we are asked frequently a KidsGardening. My first response is to begin listing all of the many benefits gardens offer that contribute to a child’s physical, mental, and emotional health. From sensory activities that can provide emotional regulation to edible gardens that can increase a child’s willingness to give new fruits and vegetables a try to hands-on activities that bring science education to life, gardening has the ability to transform the attitudes and behaviors of youth in unique and impactful ways.

However, as plentiful as the immediate benefits to a child are, one of the reasons to garden with kids that brings me the most inspiration and motivation is not realized for many, many years and long after the garden program has finished. Gardening during childhood cultivates an important connection to the land that can influence the decisions and actions individuals take as adults. As gardeners, we know that planting a seed is an investment in the future and the same holds true for planting the ‘seeds’ of knowledge through garden activities and programs. 

Two research studies I frequently reference explore the impact of gardening in childhood on the environmental attitudes and even more importantly the behaviors of adults. In a national study by Lohr and Pearson-Mims, survey results found that the strongest predictor of environmentally friendly attitudes and behaviors as an adult was reported experience of actively gardening as a child. In a separate study, Chawla found that positive and direct experiences outdoors along with sharing outdoor time with a loved one are two of the biggest contributing factors to positive environmental attitudes and actions as an adult. She recommends that adults model care for the land and also share their fascination with the natural world with their kids. What better way to accomplish those objectives than through caring for a garden?

The number of ways to provide youth with experiences in nature and the outdoors are vast, from short visits to small urban greenspaces to hikes through large national parks. What do gardens offer that is unique and makes them worth the effort?

  • Gardens are flexible in size, shape, and expense. Even a small balcony with a bit of sun can be transformed into a garden space for kids to enjoy.
  • Gardens can be part of your daily life. Choose a location that allows youth to visit and care for them regularly. This allows them to observe subtle changes and strengthens their investment in the lives of their plants and other garden inhabitants.
  • Gardens can be accessible. A garden can be designed to meet the mobility, emotional, or learning needs of any young gardener.
  • Gardens provide hands-on learning opportunities. In a world of virtual reality, gardens engage the senses in a way that is stimulating without being overwhelming.
  • Gardens provide a connection with the local environment. Youth can learn about the cycles of life and the intricate web of ecosystems through real-world experiences.

If the idea of starting a garden with the kids in your life seems daunting, it is best to start small. Some techniques to use:

Plant Container Gardens. Container gardens are the perfect way to launch your garden adventures. A container garden can be as simple as a few pots of native wildflowers in a window box or as elaborate as an array of large, outdoor tubs with plants that rotate seasonally. Just about anything that can hold soil and has drainage holes can function as a space for a plant to grow. They can be kept indoors or outdoors and can change seasonally. Explore all of the possibilities in the article Consider Container Gardening. Also, check out instructions for simple container gardens in 5-gallon buckets and our Guide to Container Gardening.

Grow native plants. As you know, native plants are well adapted to your environment, so they are likely to need less care and be more efficient with watering. Using native plants in youth gardens means you can spend less of your time on maintenance and more time observing and enjoying your space. Native gardens can usually be planted in existing soil using in-ground beds or they can be grown in raised beds. Check out our Family Guide to Native Berries and Pollinators or our Sensory Gardening with Kids Activity Kit for suggestions on ways to plan engaging garden spaces for your young gardeners.

Search for garden and gardening opportunities in your community. If you do not have the resources for your own garden, search your community for other opportunities. You are likely to find local garden enthusiasts in your community who would love the chance to plant the love of gardening in your kids and their families. You may want to start by searching for local public gardens on the American Public Gardens Association Directory, scoping out community gardens through the American Community Gardening Association, or reaching out to your local Wild Ones chapter.

As you can see, there are many different ways to engage the kids in your life in gardening depending on the resources and space you have available. An important tip as you embark on your gardening journey is that no matter what techniques you use, make sure to involve your kids in as much of the process as possible including planning and design, planting, maintenance, and harvesting all the way through garden clean up and putting the garden to bed at the end of the season. Engaging in gardening activities will look very different depending on the interests and developmental levels of your young gardeners. Garden by Age is a resource created to give you some ideas of what to expect when gardening with kids. For more recommendations, also check out KidsGardening’s Top Ten Tips for Gardening with Kids

Need more resources to help you dig into youth gardening? KidsGardening’s mission is to create opportunities for kids to play, learn, and grow through gardening, engaging their natural curiosity and wonder. We do this by providing support to educators and families through grant funding, original educational resources, inspiration, and community to get more kids learning through the garden. On our KidsGardening.org website, you can find hundreds of garden activities, lesson plans, how-to articles, growing guides, webinars, and much more. We also host the Kids Garden Community a social networking platform designed to bring educators, volunteer, and families gardening with kids together from across the country. Please reach out if you need more resources. We would love to help Wild Ones members find ways to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for native landscaping with the next generation!

Sarah Pounders has been active in the field of youth gardening for over 25 years. Growing up surrounded by plants instilled a deep love of gardens and the desire to share that love with others. While working toward her master’s degree in Horticultural Sciences at Texas A&M University, she had the opportunity to serve as a school garden coordinator and conduct research on the benefits of using school garden programs to teach nutrition.

She went on to work at various botanical gardens, for Cooperative Extension in Virginia and Texas, and since 2005 as an Education Specialist at KidsGardening.org, coordinating numerous children’s gardens, writing curricula and activities for youth of all ages, teaching formal and informal youth education programs, and conducting teacher training sessions on integrating gardens into the classroom. Sarah also enjoys gardening at home with her two kids and volunteering with their school gardening projects.


Chawla, L., (2007). Childhood experiences associated with care for the natural world: A theoretical framework for empirical results. Children, Youth and Environments, 17(4), 144-170.

Lohr, V.I. and C.H. Pearson-Mims. 2005. Children’s active and passive interactions with plants influence their attitudes and actions toward trees and gardening as adults. HortTechnology. 15(3): 472-476.