Do you like digging in the dirt with your kids?
Our family finds much joy in gardening together and today I’m happy to be interviewing Cathy James of Nurturestore about her new book, The Garden Classroom: Hands-On Activities in Math, Science, Literacy, and Art, released this month from Roost Books. Links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links.
Best part of gardening: finding a ripe tomato or a snap pea and eating it straight off the vine.
I want more people to be able to enjoy the garden as a family – it gives us a great way to connect outdoors, so I’m happy to be part of this blog tour for Cathy’s new book The Garden Classroom. My kids have already grabbed this book and started getting excited about the projects (especially the fairy garden ideas.)
I asked Cathy a few questions to help anyone get started in the garden!
The Garden Classroom: Interview with Cathy James on Getting Started Gardening With Kids
Can you tell us a little about yourself? How old are your kids? How did you learn to involve them in the garden? What does your family love about gardening?
Hi Alissa. I’m a mum of two girls, 8 and 12, and we live on the edge of a city in the UK. I write the blog NurtureStore, which is all about creative kids learning.
We homeschool now, but previously I ran the gardening club at my daughters’ school, where the 8 and 9-year-olds ran a small fruit and vegetable plot. Our garden at home is tiny, but we’ve always made the most of it, using it as an extra room to our home and a play space for the girls. I’ve been growing things with them since they were toddlers, like sunflowers and strawberry plants, so they have grown up with their hands in the soil, using materials from the garden in their play, and knowing where their food really comes from.
We love how gardening connects us to the seasons and gives us a rhythm to our year, and I think that we all just feel happy in the garden – just fundamentally knowing that nature is the place we belong. Heading outside can instantly transform our day and pick up all our moods. The girls love to spot the bugs in the garden – worms are their favourite! – and love being able to pick things to eat, right outside the back door.
I’ve heard people tell me they “don’t have a green thumb.” and they don’t do gardening, even though they think their kids would like it. Can you tell us some common mistakes people make when they try gardening with kids? How can we avoid those mistakes?
It can definitely seem so overwhelming at first, when you’re looking at seed packets and hearing about soil conditions or all the equipment that’s available. Too much choice is too much. Either it stops you in your tracks and you don’t know where to start, or you go all out and spend too much money buying things you don’t have the time to nurture or the space for.
What I want to do is encourage people to just relax and give it a try. The benefits of gardening with children are wonderful and wide ranging, so I hope people will be guided by the easy how-tos in the book and give it a go. I like to keep things simple and small at first, and just have fun with it.
I like to invite the children to pick one thing they want to grow – often it’s something they like to eat, or a plant with a name that appeals to them. My daughter picked snapdragons, just because she loves dragons. Even if you only grow sunflowers, or a pot of herbs, or have a strawberry plant, you’ll have a whole year of growing and learning right there. You can follow your plant right through the seasons, and use all the activities in the book to support lots of play and creative learning alongside.
The biggest mistake is not trying at all.
What do people need to get started? Can you tell us what you would do as a first project?
The first section of the book is called Let’s Grow! Garden Basics, and I take you through my top five plants to grow with children: tomatoes, potatoes, sunflowers, nasturtiums and lettuce. I’ve chosen these because they offer such a good, complementary range of gardening experience: food and flowers, big and small, things happening on the plants and underground, and a full cycle of things to see and do through the gardening year. In the Garden Classroom I show you how to plant them, nurture them and then enjoy your own homegrown harvest. Nothing beats eating a freshly picked, home-grown tomato!
And there are also some fun, whimsical planting ideas that you can use too. These are great if you really do have limited space, or if you’re working in a classroom, or if you’re running a gardening club and you want something the children can take home with them. The Egg Heads project is one of my girls all-time favourites and something we grow every spring, just because they are so cute and fun!