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Photo: Child gardening. Photo: Three children in the garden. Photo: Child gardening with adult supervision.

Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS003

Gardening Activities for Youth

  • Jim Nichnadowicz, 4-H Agent, Union County
  • Marissa Staffen, 4-H Agent, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Essex County
  • Lydia B. Blalock, Former Extension Specialist in Youth Development

Children reap many benefits from gardening. They learn about the lifecycle of plants, how to observe living things, and the importance of following directions. Children also see visible results from their efforts. A child caring for a garden, or even just one plant, is rewarded with beautiful flowers and delicious fruits or vegetables.

In addition, gardening is a healthy physical activity. Children of all ages can benefit from gardening. Here is a list of the general characteristics of children, the kinds of gardening activities they enjoy most often, potential problems they may encounter, and safety concerns.

One to Two-Year Olds

Toddlers are learning to walk and talk. They learn about the world through touch, smell, and sight. They may not be able to understand a lot of words, but they are ready to learn colors, names of plants, etc. An adult should be watching toddlers in the garden at all times.

Activities for Toddlers

Potential Problems in the Garden

Three to Five-Year Olds

Preschoolers have a rapidly expanding vocabulary and are curious and inquisitive. Expect a lot of “why” questions! An adult should watch preschoolers in the garden at all times.

Activities for Preschoolers

Potential Problems in the Garden

Six to Nine-Year Olds

Gardening can provide elementary school children with opportunities to reinforce skills learned in school such as counting, sorting into categories, colors, etc. Children in this age group want to help (seeking adult approval) and may try to accomplish tasks or use tools/chemicals without supervision. Make sure the child understands what he/she may or may not do without your supervision and/or permission!

Activities for Elementary School Children

Potential Problem in the Garden

Nine to Twelve-Year Olds

Upper elementary and middle school children are very active. They especially like group activities that instill a sense of belonging. Children this age have rapidly changing interests and are always eager to try something new. They usually work best when tasks are laid out in small pieces, and often need guidance from adults to stay with a project. Even though these children seem quite capable of carrying out many gardening activities, they still need assistance and close supervision.

Activities for Older Children

Potential Problem in the Garden

Twelve-Year Olds and Older

Teens desire a sense of independence yet want and/or need adult help. They are self-conscious; may feel inferior and/or incapable and may view gardening as a hobby for adults. Teens are ready for in-depth, longer learning experiences and they want to get outside their community to explore. They want to have activities that include boys and girls, and they enjoy active games.

Activities for Teens

Potential Problem in the Garden

Additional Resources

Books

Lovejoy, Sharon. Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots. 1999. Workman Publishing Company, New York City, New York. Describes how to grow a theme garden, such as a pizza garden or moth garden, with children. Also contains a list of the top 20 plants for children.

Ebinger, Elizabeth and Tuohy, Maggie. Recipes for a Successful School Garden: A Guide for Parents and Teachers Paperback, 2020. Describes how to plan, grow and sustain a school garden.

Matthew, Clare. Great Gardens for Kids. Hamlyn Press, London, England. 2002. Garden projects, such as building an arbor, that kids and adults can do together.

Richardson, Beth. Gardening with Children. Taunton Press, Newtown, Connecticut. 1998. A detailed description of how to grow a vegetable garden with children. Really focuses on horticulture techniques and how to do them with children.

Websites

National Gardening Association has curriculum and tutorials on learning how to garden.

Rutgers Cooperative Extension, has numerous technical publications on gardening and child development, as well as more information about how to join 4‑H.

Curriculum

Garden in the City - 60-page curriculum that presents 11 lessons on how to plant a vegetable garden with a group of children in 4th grade and up. Cornell Cooperative Extension

For more information on how to join the Rutgers Cooperative Extension 4‑H Youth Development Program, please see the 4‑H website.

For information on becoming a Rutgers Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteer please visit their website.

For gardening information, please see the Rutgers Cooperative Extension website or call your county’s Rutgers Cooperative Extension Office.

June 2020