If you're an avid gardener with kids, you likely already have your tried and true methods for getting out to the beds with baby tagging along. But, if you are new to gardening or nature connection and want some tips, read on!
I have years of experience in the garden with children, including infants. But, it is a completely different ballgame when you're talking about gardening with your own children. When I worked as a classroom naturalist, I could take children of ages to the garden but then sneak back later, unaccompanied by children, and get some more efficient time in the beds. Now, if I get out to the garden, I better have something to keep E happy and safe. There are SO MANY benefits to gardening with children and since the garden is one of my happy places, I really want to share that love with E and build connection through growing our own food.
Gardening with babies can be intimidating, but there's ways to make it doable and the benefits are well worth the effort.
Let's get into it. Why should I get my kids in the garden?
Do they have those little clapping hand emojis for blogs? No? Well, if they did I would insert one after each word in the following sentence: Nature time for babies needs to be fully sensory and include lots of 'yes' space.
When babies (and kids) get to smell, taste, and see what is growing in the garden, they are experiencing full sensory input. I cannot say enough about the benefits of natural sensory input for babies, as opposed to the sensory input they receive from those toys that flash lights, make noise, and play songs (there's a time and place for these too!). Beyond just the sensory benefits, gardening:
Can help with early language development. Talk to your baby about what you're doing, what is growing, how the plants changed from the last time you checked on them.
It relieves stress and improves your general well-being. E and I try to get out to the garden every day, at least to say good morning to the plants, but on rough days we try to get out even more.
It may be hard to tell, but even with young babies you are building empathy and stewardship for your little ones when you spend time in the garden. This directly supports healthy social-emotional development and a strong sense of responsibility for their nature neighborhood.
Gardening supports curiosity for children of all ages, which as children get older, supports scientific inquiry and fosters children who love to learn.
The older children get, the more they can benefit and learn from time spent in the garden. The younger you introduce that experience, the better.
Ok, I get it. Gardening is good for kids, but how do I get out there with my baby without losing my mind?
I'm glad you asked. No matter the age of your baby, a little planning and prep can make time in the garden fun and successful. E and I head to the backyard every morning to say 'Good morning, garden!' and check on the plants. You can keep it that simple, or you can read on for some tips on building your capacity for gardening with your baby.
"You have the chance to plant something very special in the hearts, minds, and spirits of your children as you garden together." – Cathy James
Tip #1 - Give them a 'yes' space
This is true no matter what you are doing with babies. If you don't give your baby a yes space, especially when your baby is mobile like E, you are just going to spend your time stressed and watching them like a hawk. Setting up a 'yes' space in the garden can look different depending on the age of your baby.
If your baby is very young and not yet mobile, a yes space might be a cozy bassinet that is easy to move in and out of the house. Or, perhaps you and baby love to babywear! When E was smaller I used the Ergo Omni 360 to make life....well, frankly, manageable. Or, take baby outside in a bassinet - just be sure to keep them in the shade or use an umbrella.
As baby gets older, the 'yes' space gets a little more tricky. You could purchase a pop-up outdoor play space, or just set baby up with a blanket and keep a close eye on them. When E and I go out in the yard, we just use a blanket and Mama's watchful eye. E, fortunately, doesn't mind the grass so sometimes we ditch the blanket altogether. Sometimes we bring toys and snacks outside, other times we just enjoy the natural stimulation.
Tip #2 - Let them garden
This goes along with creating a 'yes' space for your baby. Younger babies can really benefit from touching and smelling plants that you are working with, and if you are babywearing it can be really easy to get baby involved. But, again, as baby gets older, they might want a little more independence. Enter the baby garden.
Creating a touch and taste safe garden box for baby is incredibly easy and it gives them something they can have a little autonomy over. E's garden box currently has chives, rosemary, lemon thyme, dill, and kale. She can pull, rip, as taste to her heart's content while I weed the garden, and I am not worried one bit about damage to the plants that we're growing for food.
When you're setting this up, I recommend a rectangular plastic box for babies under 2(ish) years old. While I would love to set up a garden box to match Mama's, I would spend too much time worrying about splinters. A plastic box takes that worry away.
Then, just choose some taste safe herbs or veggies and plant them! I made sure to sift through my soil to remove any small rocks (choking hazard!) and I chose a natural soil that did not have any added fertilizers or moisture pellets. Personally, I love Coast of Maine soil and find it keeps my plants healthy and happy. There's plenty of good herb options, but you may want to try:
*Remember, I am not a pediatrician. E is old enough to eat solid foods and we are following the baby led weaning model. I feel comfortable enough with her eating ability to let her graze from these plants, to an extent. But, I am always right next to her when she is eating and am first aid/CPR certified. I do not recommend offering food to your baby without first consulting your pediatrician and always do so in a way that is safe.
Tip #4 - A little dirt won't hurt
I am going to preface this by saying that you should only do what feels comfortable and safe to you as a parent or caregiver. But, E ingests quite a bit of dirt when we're gardening together. And I'm OK with it! In fact, I am happy to see her eat a bit of dirt because I know it is beneficial to her immune system and gut biome and my husband and I feel strongly about being sure to not raise our children in an overly sanitized world. I always joked before becoming a parent that my baby would eat dirt in their first week of life. While we waited the recommended 6 months before introducing solids (that includes dirt), I will say that dirt was one of the first things E ingested after that.
There was a study done by the National Institute for Health that compared the prevalence of allergies and asthma in Amish kids (who spent their days working their land, often ingesting and encountering dirt) and children who were kept separate from a farm. The results were clear - fewer Amish children exposed to dirt had asthma or allergies.
So, as long as the soil looks clean and you feel comfortable that the area around you is safe (no pesticide or chemical use, not too close to a roadside or parking lot, etc.), go ahead - let them eat dirt!
Tip #5 - Be ready for mess
I am not going to lie to you - gardening with children of any age is messy. But, that's the point! We all want our children to grow up happy, healthy, and to develop a love for activities that feel fun and engaging to them (added bonus if we love those activities too). Giving children the space to make a mess in the garden, get dirty, and engage the way they want to is the most important thing we can do for our children. So, get yourself some good stain remover, take a breath, and get in on the messy fun yourself!
Gardening is for any age.
You don't need to stay out the garden just because you have a little one at home. Better yet, build some routine around time in the garden and help your baby develop a love of gardening from an early age!