The toddler years can be some of the most adorable and fun moments of your life as a parent, but they can also be some of the most tear-your-hair-out frustrating. If you’re wanting to start a garden with toddlers in tow, there are some things you’ll need to know to keep your sanity intact and make sure that you and your toddler still have fun in the process.
If you’re looking for one of those everything-is-roses types of posts that paint an idyllic picture of gardening with your tot, please click on another post. While I will be sharing some of my beautiful brand photos of me and my kids in the garden, please know that that is not always our reality, and there are more muddy faces and dead plants in our lives than pretty dresses and perfectly curated shots.
5 things to consider when gardening with toddlers
1. Not Every Kid Likes Being Outside
While my daughters adore being outside and making a mess in the dirt, it was a giant struggle to get my son outdoors when he was a toddler. Each child will have a garden-expiry date of sorts, and you’ll quickly learn what your child’s is. For my son, he was done after 10 minutes. For my girls, I can usually convince them to stay for 45 minutes. Neither is good or bad, you just need to know what you’re working with and manage your expectations.
I’ve also found that I’ve had to take my toddler’s lead. The other day, I really wanted to weed one of the rows in the main garden, but my daughter was hell-bent on jumping in puddles near the raised beds and Mama needed to be right by her side. Even though it was frustrating to pivot, we were both happier when I joined her in the raised beds and weeded those instead while she played.
2. Expect Interruptions
I know, I know–you just want to get one simple thing done from start to finish. I dream this impossible dream too. I would get so mad that I could never finish anything, but I just had to accept that I could only do what I could do within the toddler-garden-expiration-date, and countless requests for a favourite toy, a shovel like mine, or something like that.
I would try to set them up with some sort of toy or play area, but it almost never works. They’re interested in what I’ve set up for maybe 5 minutes, and they quickly hunt me down and want to be where I am.
And honestly? I can’t blame them. Our kids just want to be with us and it is a beautiful thing. So try to embrace it. I recommend going out often for short stints, instead of expecting your kiddo to be occupied and happy for hours while you weed.
3. Your Plants Will Get Trampled On
As much as you try and encourage them to walk on the paths and not on the plants, some toddlers *cough* my youngest *cough* have no concept of this and walk on even the tallest of plants. I also don’t know what variety half my stuff is because they move the tags where they please.
Does it bother me? Yes.
Do I let it ruin things? No.
Eventually, your plants will get to a harvestable stage and you will find out what those plants of mystery are. And in another year or two, your toddlers will stop moving everything around, and you will be able to reliably keep a label in one place.
I also like to plant extra to give myself room for failure. I don’t want to be so attached to any one plant that I’d be extremely upset if it got ruined.
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4. Give Your Toddler Something that excites them
Each child has their currency, and it’s our job as parents to figure out what that is. For my son, he was happiest if I let him dig his trains in the soil and roll around in it too. He got extremely dirty, but it was one of the few ways that I could keep him out there for more than 10 minutes.
For my oldest daughter, her currency is vegetables to play with. Once I have something harvestable, I’ll give her a few random vegetables and edible flowers to put in a basket or play with.
And my youngest daughter just wants to follow me around and dig in the dirt. I give her a shovel, pray she picks a spot on the pathway, and hope for the best.
I’ve also found that planting potatoes is one of the easiest gardening activities that toddlers can actually do. When we planted potatoes as a family, it didn’t take long before my toddlers were grabbing potatoes from the wheelbarrow, putting them in the holes I dug and covering them with soil.
I also don’t know a toddler who doesn’t love having their own little watering can. The evening watering became my oldest daughter’s favourite time of day, and she would constantly demand that I fill up her little watering can.
Did the water make it on the plants? Usually not.
But it kept her very happy and I really enjoyed spending the time with her each evening.
5. The Naptime Hustle
I despise the nap time hustle. It gives me anxiety, and I feel like I have to shove every. single. thing. I could ever possibly want to do in that hour to two-hour window. The other bad thing about taking advantage of the nap time hustle is that nap time tends to be during the hottest hours of the day.
And yet, the Hermit and I often end up gardening in plus 30 degrees Celcius temperatures at 1 in the afternoon, because that’s the time we have available to us.
It sucks. But the thing is, it isn’t forever.
In the end, my approach to gardening with toddlers boils down to acceptance of the situation. Maybe there are other people with better parenting skills than I have who can figure out ways to make gardening with toddlers a happier experience. But I really believe that the best way to enjoy gardening with your toddler is to go with the flow, do what you can, and accept the things you can’t change.
Even though it’s hard to believe, your toddler will eventually turn into a preschooler, and you will eventually be able to accomplish more in the garden.
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