Spring is finally here, and we couldn’t be happier to be shaking off the winter doldrums and getting outside again. Since we’re planning on still spending more time at home this spring and summer, gardening is at the top of our list. We found a fantastic new book, Gardening for Kids: Learn, Grown and Get Messy with Fun STEAM Projects, which has a ton of ways to get your kids into the dirt this season. We spoke with Washington-based author (and mom) Brandy Stone, about her book, background and her favorite tips for turning your kids into green thumbs!
Can you please tell us about your book, and why you wanted to write it?
Gardening for Kids covers basic gardening skills but is also filled with educational projects that help kids grow their science, technology, engineering, art, and math skills while digging in the dirt. As a mother during the pandemic, I was looking for opportunities to connect learning with fun projects. We expanded our own backyard garden, and I was amazed at how many academic skills could be tied to gardening. After much research, I put all of the fascinating facts, observations, and experiments we tried into this book.
What is your background, and why did you decide to focus on this topic?
I love nature. It’s a theme that seems to influence my work as a photographer and outdoor educator. I run an after-school kids’ program where I develop nature-based art projects, experiments, and games that get kids exploring the natural world and, inevitably, getting really dirty! I’ve seen how being in nature benefits kids. Growing a garden is an easily accessible way to spend time in nature, no matter where you live.
Why is gardening so wonderful for kids?
I can’t imagine a better way to get physical, mental, and educational benefits all at the same time! Spending time feeling, smelling, and tasting the things growing in a garden connects kids to nature and engages all of their senses. Studies show that activities like carrying watering cans or moving rocks and dirt strengthen kids’ muscles and help kids feel calm and focused. In a garden, kids get the chance to explore and test things independently, which develops their confidence.
What are some ways to help incorporate your kids into your gardening routine?
Keep things simple and focus on favorite flavors to get kids excited about gardening.
Throwing in a bit of wonder and magic helps, too! For very young kids, save seeds from their favorite vegetables to sprout or sprout food from your food scraps. Older kids often like being responsible for things like feeding worms in a worm composter, trimming dead leaves, harvesting fruit, or checking moisture levels.
What are a few of your favorite experiments to do in the garden with kids?
Seed Tape Garden Design – One of my favorite projects to do this time of the year is designing a garden using homemade seed tape. It works really well for tiny, hard-to-handle seeds, but it is also a fun way to be artistic with your plantings. Kids practice math skills, science concepts, and even combine engineering and art together to make a garden plan. All you need is biodegradable paper (we use toilet paper), flour, seed packets, a ruler, a marker, paper and a paintbrush.
- Measure the length and width of your garden area or container, then sketch your garden area out on paper. Use one-inch lines to represent one foot of garden space.
- Research the types of plants you want to grow, then sketch them into your garden design.
- Cut strips of biodegradable paper to fit your planting plan.
- Check the spacing suggesting for your seeds, which can be found on the back of your seed packets. Use a ruler and marker to make marks on the paper where the seeds should go. For example, if the seed packets say your seeds should be placed ½ inch apart, make a small mark every ½ inch.
- In a small bowl mix a little water and flour together to make a paste, adjusting it until the mixture is thick. Sprinkle some seeds on top of the paste.
- Dip a paintbrush into the paste, grabbing a seed with the tip. Dab the seed onto the first mark on the paper. Repeat until you get to the end of the paper. You may be able to make more than one row of seeds on the paper. Write the name of the seeds on your paper strip.
- Leave the seed tape out overnight to dry, then store it in a cool dry spot until it’s time to plant.
- When the weather is right, dig a row at the recommended depth for your seeds. Bury your seed tape, then water the soil until it is thoroughly moist. Keep the soil moist until your seeds sprout.
Garden Grown Pigment Paint – Another favorite project is making homemade paint from colorful vegetables, fruit, leaves-even weeds! Studying the way plant material behaves when combined with a liquid like vinegar, is a fun way to learn about pigments while testing solvents. And you are rewarded with natural, non-toxic paint that you can use to make a painting of your garden!
- Gather pieces of colorful plants like flower petals, leaves, root vegetables, or berries. You can even use vegetables from the store. Hint: some of the best natural dyes come from plants with deep colors like red cabbage, marigolds, hibiscus, beets, and red leaves.
- Keep your plant samples separated from each other – then cut or tear them into a small container. Mash each sample well with a round rock or pestle to release the pigment.
- Warm 1 cup of white vinegar in the microwave for 45 seconds. Then, cover the mashed plant samples with a little warm vinegar. Use as little vinegar as possible to get the sample wet – it will help your final paint color be more intense.
- Leave the plant samples to soak for 5 hours.
- After 5 hours, dip a paintbrush into one of the garden paints and paint a sample stroke onto a piece of paper. Rinse your paintbrush and repeat, making a sample stroke for each plant. Let the paint dry. Which plants made the best paint? Does the paint color change when it dries?
- Repeat this experiment using different solvents. Try using boiling water or rubbing alcohol instead of vinegar. Which solvent works best?
Can you tell us a bit about your own family and how you enjoy the outdoors with them?
As a family, we love exploring hiking and biking trails here in the Pacific Northwest. We also work on projects together in our backyard. Our kids help shovel dirt, mix concrete, sand wood, and paint so that we can enjoy swings, a wooden bridge overlooking a creek, and a greenhouse where we can work on even more projects together.
What can you do right now for your own garden to prepare fully for planting season?
This is the perfect time of the year to plan your garden. There are great gardening apps and websites that help you create a perfect garden plan for your zip code. If you want to grow your plants from seeds, buy the seeds now and separate them into cool-weather varieties and warm-weather varieties. I like to use my calendar to remind myself when to plant each type of seed.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Just that gardening can be done anywhere! If you don’t have an empty piece of land for a garden, you can still benefit from gardening. You can use containers on a patio or balcony. Growing herbs on a windowsill is satisfying and beautiful, and spreading native wildflower seeds in natural areas helps pollinators and birds.