Creating a small, child-friendly vegetable garden is exciting, fun, and educational. A garden has the potential to produce not only tomatoes and carrots but pictures, scarecrows, math practice, and other wonderful moments of discovery. It is a place of limitless possibilities – learning never tasted so good!

What’s fun about a vegetable garden? Dirt, worms, stones, seeds, digging, fresh air, responsibility, science, reading, pride. With a garden, imagination becomes your most valuable crop.

Materials:

Yardstick

Shovel

Tarp

Rake

Trowel

Water

Peat moss (if soil is sandy)

Compost (organic, if possible)

1 package of baby carrot seeds

3 cherry tomato plants

3 Wooden stakes five feet in length

Plant ties

Before you even start digging, you and your child can design and draw the garden together. While the yardstick will be used to measure the garden’s area when you get outside, you can create a comparable design inside.

Planning: Draw and Measure

This is a fantastic opportunity to learn about math. Squares, anyone? Draw a square whose dimensions will be equal to 3 feet on each side for the garden’s blueprint. You can teach her about area, addition, how to use a ruler, and other related concepts depending on her age. Don’t forget length and width, too. Also, draw two lines in the square that represent one row for carrots and one row for the tomato plants. Your child can draw representations of seeds or carrots or tomatoes on those lines. Maybe even throw in a scarecrow!

Once your garden blueprint is complete, you can gather what you need and start whenever you’re ready. You might consider gathering some books about plants or gardens or Mother Nature’s purpose for the food we eat. Start introducing a plant’s life cycle or what really does happen to a seed. Again, you choose what works best for your child’s age and abilities.

It’s Only Dirt: Dig, Dig, Dig

Grab some old clothes, your materials, and parade to the special spot you have chosen for your garden. Just a reminder: don’t forget sunscreen, hats, water, and any other special provisions to keep your new gardener happy and healthy. Help the youngest avoid putting their hands in their mouths, too. There’s only so much dirt you can eat!

Have your child use the blueprint, guiding you with the construction.

The yardstick will create all four sides of the garden. As you lay the stick down, ask your child to use the trowel to mark that side or vice versa. Use the outside of the yardstick. Simply drag the trowel along the edge of the stick from one end to the other. 2 or 3 passes back and forth should create a distinct line to follow when it comes time to dig. Decide what works best for you.

Lay the yardstick down each time, creating the garden’s shape and structure.

Now, you’re ready to dig. If your child is old enough or even has a kid’s shovel, she can help. Dig out the square to a depth of one foot. This should be sufficient for carrots and tomatoes. Digging a garden of this size shouldn’t take that long but, if your little one looks bored, bring out the books or paper and crayons.

Spread the tarp out next to the garden and dump the dirt onto that. Kids can start looking for worms (return them to the soil) or removing stones and pebbles. The less obstructions the better.

Now you can help your child practice some basic math. See if she can use the rocks and count. Three stones? Five? You can count, add, subtract. Whatever you want! You can even count how many worms you find.

After you have dug out your hole, take the shovel, rake, or trowel and break up the dirt. Tilling would be easier with a machine, but this garden is manageable by hand. Place the soil back into the hole. Add 1/3 of compost if needed and 1/3 of peat moss. Mix well. Rake over the top until it is smooth and level.

Allow your child to do as much as possible. Praise her efforts and her competence.

Now It's Time To Plant

With some guidance, your child will have no problems doing this on her own.

Take the trowel and create a ¾ inch deep furrow in the dirt from one end of the garden to the other. Use a ruler or tape measure. Open the package of carrot seeds. Place a few seeds in one hand and, with the other, drop two or three seeds at a time as you move down the row. Try to space the seeds an inch apart. Fold the dirt gently over the furrowed row.

Next, gently remove the tomato plants from their containers. Have your child dig three evenly spaced holes in the garden. The tomato plant should be placed in the ground and covered with dirt only up to the first observable leaf. Press the soil firmly around the plant. As the tomato plant grows, push a stake into the ground and tie it securely to the plant using two or three ties.

Grab the hose or watering can. Make sure you spray the carrots with a fine mist, just enough to dampen the ground. The tomato plants can get a little more water but be careful not to soak the garden. Water evenly every day. In two weeks, you should start to see seedlings.

You can add a rain gauge or make a scarecrow for your garden. You can keep track of the growth with a measuring chart. You can make a list of vitamins each vegetable provides and how that helps the body. You can even write a poem. Don’t let anything stop you from learning about your garden.

The moment your child sees the first tomato or first carrot seedling sprout out of the ground – the ground that she tended and created – will be one neither of you will forget. Take pictures and celebrate the wonderful moments discovered in your garden.