What Gardening Has Taught Me About Parenting

What Gardening Has Taught Me About Parenting. Kids and seeds are more alike than you may realize! (Photo: Young boy playing in the dirt with tomato plants behind him.)

“Look, those tomatoes are red! Can I eat them?” Sprout asks me, hardly waiting to pop them in his mouth.

“Just wait to get inside for me to wash them,” I say, brushing aside the overgrown zucchini leaves as I walk towards the garden gate. He mock puts them in his mouth and I roll my eyes at him.

Getting inside, he hands me the tiny tomatoes for me to place in a small orange plastic bowl and rinse off. I hand it back and he sits down on the couch to chomp down. (Despite our “only eat at the table” rule.)

I reflect on how much he’s learned from spending time with me in the garden: knowing how to plant seeds, understanding the role of weeds, composting, and judging when vegetables are ripe.  But I also think about the life lessons the garden has taught me that apply to raising kids.

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The Truth about Gardening with Kids and Children

The Truth about Gardening with Kids and Children - yes, all of these things will happen! (Photo: Pepper plant in garden surrounded by straw)

“Nononono,” I cry, sprinting over to Little Bird. He looks up, one dirty, guilty hand still at his mouth. His lips are lined with bits of dark brown. I looked down for just a moment to plant a pepper seedling. In that short period, he crawled over to the garden fence, stuck his hand in, and shoved a chunk of dirt right in his face. I sigh, wipe him off with the back of my hand, and rest him on my hip. Gardening with kids isn’t for the faint of heart. If you garden with young kids, all of these things will happen at some point:

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Guest Post: Spring into STEM!

Cleaning out the garden with Sprout

Gardening is all about science, from the life cycle of a plant to the nitrogen cycle of the soil. I combined both of those loves in a guest post for Raising Nerd about using gardening to teach your mini-nerds about science, engineering and math. It’s heavy on the ecology, but touches on a bunch of areas.

Here’s a preview:

Dirt covered the table. Dirt covered my son’s hair. Dirt covered everything. While I wanted to be annoyed, I really wasn’t. It was all in the name of learning – and growing food in our new garden.

While trowels and compost may not seem like obvious tools for teaching science, vegetable gardens can be incredible classrooms. That day, my son was learning about the life cycle of plants while we started tomato seeds.

The best part is that gardening provides the potential for kids of all ages to learn. While my three-year-old is just beginning to learn the basics, even I’ve learned quite a bit in my years of gardening. If you don’t garden yet, consider planting a few flowerpots so you can share the benefits with your kids.

Read the rest at Raising Nerd!

How to Create the Best Low-Maintenance Garden with Kids

Want a low-maintenance garden you can grow and tend with kids? Check out lasagna gardening! 

The Best Low-Maintenance Garden with Kids (Photo: Child in a red and black jacket standing at the entrance of a small garden gate with newspapers on the garden.)

When I first started gardening, growing my own vegetables seemed impossible. I participated in a group community garden, but at least the other volunteers knew what they were doing. I knew nothing about planting seeds, keeping them growing, or protecting them from anything.

But one day, a friend and fellow volunteer introduced me to a concept that she called “lazy gardening.” It was a way to grow a low-maintenance garden that was also totally organic and sustainable. As both an ecologist and even before kids, a pretty busy person, it immediately made sense to me. To this day, I garden this way. Despite having two small children, my garden is relatively productive. The best

To this day, I garden this way. Despite having two small children, my garden is relatively productive. The best part? That the short amount of time it does take to maintain it is often things I can do with my kids. No fussy tasks here.

What is this miracle low-maintenance garden approach?

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A Holiday Gift Guide for Outdoor Families

Text: "Holiday Gift Guide for Outdoor Families, We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Photos of a plastic watering can for children, a board book called Hello, National Parks, a rain jacket, and a blue headlamp.
Getting kids outside has a whole host of benefits, from stronger immune systems to the sheer joy of play. While sometimes all that’s needed is a stick and a bit of imagination, having certain gear can help bringing kids outside easier, safer and more fun. Whether you’re in the mountains or your own backyard, this gift guide – which is mainly focused on kids in preschool and elementary school – should provide a few helpful suggestions. (Note – none of these are affiliate or sponsored links, just products and/or companies I personally like.)

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The Basics of Composting with Kids

The Basics of Composting with Kids. Want to start composting but don't know where to start? Involve your kids in the process and learn the basics of composting! (Photo: Black composter in front of a basil plant.)

Sometimes, I question the decision to teach my four-year-old how to compost. Like when he spent 10 minutes today ripping up a tiny piece of newspaper to add to it. Or touched the composter after I turned it and it was dripping with decomposing goo. Thankfully, he didn’t put his hands in his mouth. At least not this time.

Despite the gross moments, composting with kids is worth it. As a way to reduce waste and save money, it’s a worthwhile skill in and of itself. It’s also a pathway into so many other lessons in ecology, food waste, and biological cycles.

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Growing Through the Seasons

Growing Through the Seasons

My years are measured in seasons now, not months or years. Each brings a flurry of activity and opportunity for growth.


Roaming the local pumpkin patch, we find the most perfect bumpy, little pumpkin for our little boy. Around campfires and hay bales, we breathe in the cooling air.

The leaves shift colors and drift down. As much as my two-year-old loves jumping on the bed, he’s never jumped in leaves before. We start with a slow-motion fall, easing our way down with giggles and flailing. After a few jumps, he piles the leaves into the wheelbarrow by the armful.

The week before, we had stripped the garden, pulling out monstrous tomato plants and prickly squash. Now, we empty the composter, scraping the sides of the dark sludge and shreds of newspaper caught there. We break down the straw bale that held our Jack o’lantern, layering it in with the compost and leaves. The pile nearly comes up to my son’s head.

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A Failing Garden and Thriving Family

Text: "A Failing Garden and Thriving Family; We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So." Photo of a garden with a few very small plants growing in it, surrounded by a fence and mulched with straw and leaves.

My garden is sad. Or at least I’m sad about it. But a combination of bad luck and slight neglect is reminding me where my attention needs to be right now.

Photo of groundhog and groundhog baby in a yard with green grass and a turtle-shaped toddler pool behind them.

My garden is feeding a fellow mommy!

I’ve planted corn, broccoli, melon, beans, peas, basil and tomatoes so far. The May rains of Biblical proportions washed away our broccoli seedlings and corn seeds. The first round of bean sprouts failed, along with the melon sprouts. A hungry animal stripped the leaves from the second round of bean sprouts, along with the vast majority of my pea sprouts. (Possibly our resident groundhog – she did that to the sweet potatoes last year.) Hungry birds looking for worms dislodged the sweet potato and few sprouts that remained.

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Earth Week: Using Permaculture to Talk to Kids About Environmental Sustainability

It’s Earth Week – my favorite secular holiday! For an environmentalist, Earth Day is every day, but it’s still nice to recognize it. This week, my posts are all going to be on how to engage kids on environmental issues, from how to talk about climate change to fun activities that can spark long-term change. 

Using Permaculture to Talk to Kids About Environmental Sustainability-2

Communicating about environmental sustainability is astonishingly hard; inspiring people to take action is even harder. In fact, I spend a good deal of my professional career contemplating how to do this effectively. Add kids into the mix, with their limited knowledge of science and ability to handle “big issues,” and it seems near-impossible. Kim Payne of Simplicity Parenting actually holds climate change up as topic we simply shouldn’t discuss it with children because it’s too stressful.

Unsurprisingly, I disagree. We have an obligation to teach kids about climate change and other environmental issues, if only because they’ll be ones who have to deal with this crap in the future. Plus, there are plenty of kids who want to know about them and like with sex ed, it’s better to give them good information than misinformation. I’ve been an activist since my elementary school self dog-eared a copy of 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth and I came out okay. (Right?) But Payne is correct that we often discuss climate change in ways that are disempowering and frankly, scary, for kids.

Instead, I recommend using permaculture as way to discuss sustainability. While permaculture has its roots (ha) in agriculture, it’s actually much broader. Essentially, it looks to structure how we live around ecological principles, helping us work with, not against, nature. It is based on three major principles: care for the earth, care for people, and return of surplus back to the system to meet the needs of the earth and people. I’ve been a fan of permaculture since I moved to D.C. and started volunteering with a Transition Towns group, a movement based on the idea of applying permaculture to entire communities. I learned more about how to apply it to teaching children from Jen Mendez from PERMIE KIDs when I attended her Rooting DC workshop last year.

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Green Kids: A Toddler’s Guide to Starting Seeds

A Toddler's Guide to Seed Starting

Our yard would be mostly vegetable garden if its topography and Chris’s aesthetic preferences allowed me to do so. As it is, we have a modest but productive 10X15 garden in the back. While I could fill it with seedlings from the farmers’ market, my thriftiness and DIY-aesthetic motivated me to learn how to start everything from seed a few years ago. So every spring, I flip through the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog, order too much, and start the long process of bringing up seedlings. Except this year, I have a helper. Sprout – true to his nickname – joined me to start planting this past weekend.

Sprout also “helped” start seeds last year, although that was more about introducing him to gardening than him actually being useful. This year, I still could have done it faster and with less of a mess by myself, but he did actually contribute.

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