Welcome to Lauresa Larson who is guest posting today from Backyard Fresh Meals! Read on to enjoy a bunch of simple and practical learning activities for this time of year with your toddlers in the garden. -Bethany
Harvest time is my second favorite part of gardening. My first is watching those baby plants start to grow. (insert all the heart eyes). Harvest time is just bursting with learning activities for toddlers. So much to discover! My girls are two year old twins, and I’ve found some ways to successfully include them while preventing the inevitable destruction unchecked toddlers can create. The list of benefits from gardening for your family goes on and on, but my favorites specific to toddlers include growing healthy (less picky) eaters; developing a love for nature, food and perhaps cooking; and getting lots of fresh air and sunshine. (= better napping, am I right?)
When I walk out to the garden, my girls are guaranteed to follow. Recently we had a lot of ripe tomatoes, so we made picking the right ones into a fun game. You can play too!
COLOR HARVEST GAME
First, help your toddler point out the different colors in the garden (hint: there will be a lot of green). You know how to ask to keep it knowledge appropriate. Now focus on a plant that’s fruit changes color as it ripens. E.g. Look at the tomatoes. Do you see any green tomatoes? Orange? Red? Next, explain how the colors affect taste. The red tomatoes are the yummy sweet kind. Let’s pick only the red tomatoes. Can you find all the red tomatoes? Finally, she is ready to pick! With this warm up, all she may need is a gentle reminder of, “we only pick the sweet red tomatoes,” to get it right. (Sweet peppers would also work nicely)
MODIFICATIONS: RED LIGHT GREEN LIGHT
With an older child, let him pick vegetables to the game of Red Light Green Light. When you say Red Light, he has to stop. When you say Green Light, he can continue. You can use the Red Light command to stop him to remind him of which plants are ready for picking, and which plants are not. Green Light resumes the game.
Many plants don’t change color, but maybe they get bigger, or grow hair (corn). Point out big vs. little for the same kind of activity.
MORE HARVESTING TIPS
When you have two (or more): Adding another toddler to the mix splits you in two and can lead to all the leaves and buds ripped off the pepper plant. We’ve had way too many plant casualties at our house! I’ve learned a couple things. The trick is to keep everyone diligently occupied for as long as possible, and use fun containers. So break everything down to the tiniest steps. Try this: Let her pick a bag or bucket. Let him hold the container. Let her pick and hand him a vegetable, one at a time. Let him place each item in the bag. Have them take turns.
I am always a little stressed in the garden (because those little hands move so fast), so it’s really fun to extend the harvest past the picking. Your toddler will love this part. Bring your container full of food to a table or patio. Let her take everything out and line it up. Have her organize by size, type, color or just sit back and see what patterns she creates. Try building a tower.
With picky eaters, exposure is a big part of the solution. Gardening will help a lot if the kids are involved because the exposure starts at the very beginning.. To encourage even more exposure, try running your very own science experiments on different foods. Smell them. Lick, bite, or maybe swallow. My girls even tried biting jalapenos, and now they know what spicy means. Of course cooking is the next step! But first, try cutting foods open. See what’s inside. Peel an onion. Is it squishy? Crunchy? Are there layers?
Our garden is by no means impressive, but it’s amazing how much our family has bonded over “our garden”. The endless science experiment makes for lots of learning for toddlers and adults. I hope you enjoy any kind of garden of your own!