Like many things in parenthood, my first experience gardening with my toddler was not the blissful, beautiful, serene moment I had pictured in my head. Nope. Instead, it was dirt-throwing, plant-stomping, shovel-stealing, soaking wet chaos.
My little guy loves digging in the dirt with me, and I love sharing the experience of growing plants with him. We can garden in harmony now, but that’s after lots of trial and error. (Isn’t that what parenting is all about?)
If you’re struggling to garden with your overzealous toddler, I’ve been there, Mama. Here are 6 quick tips that cover some of the tricks I’ve learned for successfully gardening with that happy, destructive kiddo.
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1. Toddler Garden Tasks
A great way to keep your toddler involved is to give him or her tasks. My little guy loves to help and feel important. His favorite garden chore is watering the plants. He has his own little watering can that we fill up at the water spigot and then he carries it very slowly and carefully to the flower bed.
Other gardening jobs my son has held include carrying newly purchased plants to the flower bed, stacking empty plastic flower pots, pulling weeds (with guidance), putting pulled weeds into a big container for disposal and any other random job that I can think of.
2. Toddler Gardening Tools
After watching me dig out our new garden area, my son was itching to do digging of his own. It was so tempting for him to sneak my big shovel or garden trowel and start digging for himself. While I loved his enthusiasm, I just didn’t feel safe letting my 2 year old play with my sharp gardening tools.
I bought him a set of gardening tools from the Target Dollar Spot and he loves them! He loves having the same as Mommy and it keeps him away from my big tools and out of trouble. He also has his own watering can and I’ve been on the lookout for gardening gloves.
Here’s a set very similar to ours. I totally recommend the metal tools because they’re such better quality and longer lasting than the traditional plastic ones.
3. Pause for special moments
The serene moments of gardening with my son that I pictured before he was born never panned out, but we do experience some pretty special moments together among the flowers. It’s so amazing that most of the things my son is seeing are things he’s seeing for the very first time.
I always try to pause what I’m doing and point out new things to my son as I work in the garden. Some of the things that make my son extra excited are:
- looking at butterflies and bees
- holding wiggly worms
- counting the number of buds on a plant
- investigating spider webs
- listening for crickets
- searching for frogs and lizards
- looking for silly shaped clouds
These moments are just so fun! It is incredible to watch my son experience nature for the first time. These special moments fill up my heart and make me so grateful to be his mama.
4. Provide a space for hands-on exploring
While my son loves chatting (he really, really loves chatting), what he really wants to do it get his hands dirty. And I don’t blame him!
To keep my son from digging in my garden I built him this Rainbow Toddler Garden.
I let him have full reign of this little raised garden bed. If he wants to drive his dump truck in there – no problem. If he wants to bury the flowers in dirt – fine. If he just wants to dig and dig and dig – go for it dude. This is a place where he can explore and experiment and try whatever ideas his little brain dreams up (within reason).
Now whenever he wants to play with his gardening tools he knows that he has to play with them in his garden. No more digging in my flower beds.
Designating a space for your toddler to play in the dirt is a great way to let them explore without putting your plants at risk to your kiddo’s curiosity.
5. Distraction, distraction, distraction
I think the proper parenting term is redirection, but we all know it’s just distraction. If your kiddo is having a hard time resisting the urge to pluck all of your flowers, provide them with something else to do.
There are days where my son is yelling “Mommy!!” every 5 minutes and it’s impossible to get anything done. (You know the feeling.) On those days, I fall back on a few activities that usually hold his attention for a little longer and give me a few minutes of peace.
Below are some of the activities we try. They’re silly and they don’t always work, but it’s worth a try to get my son to play independently for a little while.
To keep him engaged I periodically add different things to the water table to give him new ways to play. His favorites so far have been dirty rocks to clean, extra cups and pitchers for pouring, paint brushes & sponges and rubber ducks.
It is amazing how busy this table keeps him! He asks to play with it every single day. I recommend getting a water table to all moms of toddlers. They’re fairly inexpensive and we’re on our second summer of getting endless use out of it. Buy one – seriously.
Food is my 2nd go to distraction. The longer it takes to eat, the better.
I make it extra special by calling it a picnic whenever my son gets to eat outside. We have a special picnic blanket and he usually gets to have a special treat like a popsicle.
Dry beans in a bin
I got this idea from a friend and it has provided so many hours of play for my son! I never expected that dumping some uncooked beans into a plastic bin would provide entertainment for my son, but he LOVES playing with them.
Some of his favorite activities for the beans are playing with construction trucks and cars in the in bin, using different size cups to scoop and burying small toys to search for them.
A word of caution if your kiddo is playing beans outside:
My friend’s child spilled her tub of beans in a muddy spot of the backyard and a few weeks later… bean sprouts! Just keep in mind you might get some surprise beans from this activity.
“Hey! How fast can you run again? I don’t remember. It was really fast, right? Can you show me?”
My son hasn’t caught on to this trick yet. He has done many many laps around the yard so I can get 30 seconds of doing something alone. (Please tell me I’m not the only one!)
Lately my son has become very interested in searching for treasures. So I’ve turned it into a game in the backyard. I give him a little bucket and he searches the ground for things like sticks, leaves and rocks. He likes bringing me his treasures so I can see what he has found.
6. Remember, they're just plants
It sucks when your toddler accidentally-on-purpose destroys your plants. I’ve been there. I’ve been the sad mama with an overturned flower pot. The hands-on-her-hips mama with the stomped flowers in the flower bed. And the annoyed mama with all the green tomatoes picked off the tomato plant.
But, I remind myself, he’s so young. He’s learning and exploring and trying new things. I remind him of the right way to care for plants and when things go awry that’s okay. We just try again. At the end of the day they’re just plants.
And, when I think about it, the best part of my gardening experience now isn’t the pretty flowers I grow, but instead it’s teaching my little guy about one of my favorite hobbies and watching his complete awe at experiencing nature for the very first time.
It’s cheesy, but, seriously, I feel so lucky to have the time and ability to enjoy the sunshine and get my hands dirty with my son. It’s a pretty amazing life.
I hope these tips help you to continue your gardening hobby with the addition of your happy, enthusiastic helper. I know that it can be hard to maintain your hobbies as a mom, but it is totally possible to continue gardening with your toddler. And, it will be even more rewarding than before.