Planting seeds with children can be inspiring, educational and fun. It can also be chaotic, messy and stressful. To make planting with young children run smoothly, plan carefully for each step. Have all supplies handy, and give clear, simple directions. Remember that children will not plant perfect rows of seeds at exactly the correct depth. When the seeds are gone and the children are dirty but smiling, you know planting has been successful.
Choose a type of seed to plant. Children's small hands and lack of fine-motor skills can make handling tiny seeds a difficult task. Select a large seed such as beans, sunflowers, peas or squash. These seeds can also take some abuse and still produce interesting flowers or vegetables.
Prepare the soil for planting. For indoor planting, simply buy a bag of seed-starter soil mix. For outdoor planting, preparing the soil is more complicated. First, till the garden. Turn the soil with a pitchfork or large shovel. Pull out any weeds or grass growing in the area. Have children help break up clumps of soil with a hand spade. Children also enjoy sifting the soil with a wire sifter. Next, add any needed amendments to the soil. Kids can help spread compost with small spades while you mix it into the soil.
Plant the seeds. If planting indoors, children can start seeds on a sunny, warm windowsill any time of year. Using a spade, have them fill peat pots or other well-drained containers three quarters full of seed-starter mix. Outdoors, be sure to wait until there is no danger of frost. Children can make the holes or furrows for the seeds using sticks, a hoe or just their fingertips. For squash, bean, pea and sunflower seeds, they should make the holes about 1 inch deep. Give each child a number of seeds, as one is never enough. Have them drop them into the holes or furrow. Then, they can cover the seeds with soil and pat gently.
Help children take care of their seeds. Seeds need warmth and moisture to germinate. After planting, have children use a watering can or spray bottle to sprinkle the seeds lightly with water. The seeds need just enough water to make the soil moist. Do not worry if kids overwater, however. Just make sure the pot or garden is well-drained. For the next seven to 14 days, children should keep the soil moist each day. When the seedlings finally appear, let them be the children's exciting discovery.
Watch the plants grow with the children. Children can look for the discarded seed coat, which is often easy to spot right above the soil. They can also look for the plant's first true leaves. After the plant has its first leaves, it needs sunshine to survive. Children can be responsible for watering their plants and making sure they gets enough sun. If the children move the plants farther away from the sunshine for a few days, they can watch the plants reaching for the light source. Children can also pull weeds and look out for pests like caterpillars and slugs. With any luck, the plants will soon bear flowers and fruit for the children to enjoy.
Plant seeds in peat pots, making it easy to transfer plants directly into the soil. Provide spray bottles instead of watering cans; this prevents kids from drowning their seeds. Prick out extra seedlings if more than one sprouts in the same spot.
Harden off seedlings before transplanting outdoors. Do this by slowly increasing their time in direct sunlight until they can spend a whole day outside without wilting. Otherwise, most seedlings will die.