It’s time to start readying home gardens for spring and summer planting, and that means parents with green thumbs have to figure out how to manage with little ones in tow. Gardening is a great activity for the family, and an ideal learning opportunity for children, but it can be a special challenge when working with the short attention spans and the infinite needs of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Before digging in the dirt, make sure you — and your children — are ready for the great outdoors!

1. Give children their own tools. Provide them with toy spades and little gloves, or if appropriate, let them use the real thing. Just make sure they have some of the same tools you are using.

2. …And their own pile of dirt. A small pile of dirt, rocks, perhaps some wads of grass in a bucket, a few sticks. They’ll love “working” with their hands in the same stuff you are. Dress them in old clothes and don’t sweat the mess they’re making of themselves.

3. Let them help pull out weeds and old plants. This time of year is the perfect time for young children to help with gardening. When you’re not yet planting, there’s no risk of damaging newly planted flowers or vegetables. Let them get in, get dirty, and help yank out the dead stuff.

4. Move the pack ‘n play outside. These foldable play pens are one of the greatest inventions for parents of toddlers. Children under the age of two might need a bit of corralling if you don’t have a fenced-in yard. Some brands sell attachable canopy tops if you’re concerned about too much sun, so check to see if the company who made your pack n’ play has one available for purchase.

5. Watch the forecast — and plan ahead. Take a lesson from farmers and avid gardeners, who are loyal watchers of the Weather Channel or their local forecast. If the weather permits, set out garden tools, outdoor toys, and whatever else you need the night before in order to make the most of the time you have the next day.

6. Work as much as you can in small batches of time. Sometimes, it’s difficult to start a job when you’re unsure of how much can get done with young children afoot. You can clear a few square feet can in just a little bit of time. Start now: Keep an eye on the weather, and take advantage of every available good-weather day. Your garden will be ready before you know it!

7. Use spring fever to your advantage. This is the time of year when nature starts teasing us for warmer weather. Chances are, children who have been cooped up in hibernation for the winter will love being outside with you.

8. Cleanliness is not next to godliness: gardening is! Your children aren’t going to have much fun if you worry about the mess. If need be, ditch dirty clothes and shoes in the garage or entryway before steering everyone straight for the bath.

More helpful resources:

Gardening With Small Children

Before You Buy Kid-Sized Gardening Tools