How to
     raise a

These suggestions can get
kids digging in the dirt

December 04, 2008

By Lawaine Stubblefield,
Victoria County Master Gardener

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Photo Credit: Lawaine Stubblefield/Victoria County Master Gardener
Master Gardener Lawaine Stubblefield's granddaughter, Adrianna, a next generation gardener, learned early on how a gardening tool makes digging in the dirt a lot more fun.
In today's world, we look for ways to help our children meet the ever-increasing demands of living. All parents want their children to be healthy and happy and, ultimately, rooted in the world of reality. Showing your children how to get back to basics with a love of gardening can go far in accomplishing that end.

So, how do we go about instilling a love of gardening? If you've ever tried to get your teenager to pull weeds in the vegetable garden or haul tree limbs to the street, you understand what a challenge this can be.


I have loved gardening all my life. The outdoors is where I usually prefer to be, and so my children have grown up outside. Making mud-pies, building sandcastles, race car tracks and planting any conceivable thing you can imagine was how they entertained themselves while their mother was tending her garden. They learned at an early age all about bugs, butterflies, lizards, snakes, bees and birds and how they contribute in their own way to the natural world they live in.

I must admit, I never made a science of teaching my kids to be good gardeners. I pretty much just let them figure it out and gently guided them along the way. And so, of course they loved digging in the dirt, planting things and watching things grow because they were allowed to do it their way.

As children grow, their interest wanders, and now you couldn't get them in the back yard to dig in the dirt if your life depended on it.


There is good news for all you frustrated parents whose sole purpose for instructing little Johnny on the finer points of clipping grass was to instill a love of gardening.

Today, my kids are grown with families and homes of their own, and are nurturing their own gardens. They can be found digging in the dirt with their kids and having fun again. And here's a bonus - do you remember when they were teenagers and thought you were "dumber than dirt?" Now I'm the expert on everything gardening. They actually want me to tell them how to do it. Life is so-o-o good.


I always learn so much when I write one of these articles. For this one, it meant getting on the Internet and revisiting some of those fun things I used to do with my kids. is all about nature projects for little ones. I must try the Flower Pounding Nature Preschool Craft with my grandkids. It involves pounding flowers to make a colored pattern on paper or material. Now what kid wouldn't like that. Another great site especially with kids and school science fairs is


There are some excellent Web sites for young gardeners, with the Texas Junior Master Gardener site ( being one of them. It offers a wide variety of topics from crafts, to planting projects, to children's books. There are guides for teachers and subscriptions to monthly magazines.

The Junior Master Gardener (JMG) Program is an international 4-H youth gardening program, developed and managed by Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M University System. One of its projects, along with the American Horticultural Society, recognizes a select group of children's books that are nominated and selected for the "Growing Good Kids - Excellence in Children's Literature" book award. Some of the traditional (classic) books listed were some of my children's favorites.


Books are nominated and awarded each year. These are several award winners for
2006, 2007, and 2008:

"The Tree Farmer" - A grandfather who owns a tree farm takes his grandson on a magical journey through the forest, where trees become musical instruments, books, a baby's crib and more.

"Mother Earth" - Earth Mother awakes with the dawn. As she walks the land, swims the seas, and climbs the mountains, nurturing all of creation, she comes across Man, Frog and Mosquito. They each give her thanks for nature's bounty, yet can't help but give her advice about making their lives better.

"Miss Ladybird's Wildflowers" - From a lonely childhood in the Piney Woods of East Texas, to an exciting life in the White House, Lady Bird Johnson loved wildflowers with all her heart. A warm and engaging look at the life of a great First Lady.

"Our Apple Tree" - With two helpful tree sprites to guide them, readers travel from spring, when the apple tree blossoms, through summer, when the fruit grows, to fall and the harvest. Along the way, they learn about the life of the tree and some of the animals - from insects that pollinate the flowers, to deer that eat the fallen fruit.

When you're shopping for Christmas gifts for your children this year, remember to include some fun books that will encourage them to venture outside.


And then take them to the Master Gardeners' very own Victoria Education Gardens (VEG) at the Victoria Regional Airport.

There are many areas geared especially for children. A sensory garden provides for young fingers to feel all the many different textures of plants and hear the sounds of nature.

A child-sized bird house lets children imagine what it would be like to be a bird while in the classroom.

The butterfly garden has plants that attract butterflies and provides food for them.

There is also a fish pond, a vegetable garden, and the list goes on. . Children love adventures and new places of discovery. Take them to VEG and discover together the wonder of plants, bugs, butterflies and birds.

Or give them pint-sized garden tools and some seeds so they can be just like you - and let them loose in the back yard. Have fun with them in the garden and make a memory. You will always be glad you did.
Photo Credit: Joe Janak/Victoria County Extension Agent
The Children's Garden at the Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG) has a child-sized bird house that lets children imagine what it would be like to be a bird in a real classroom setting. The birding area kiosk educates visitors on what birds are likely to be seen in the garden, while real water lilies and fish can be found in the water garden pond. There is also a butterfly garden, a sensory garden to touch and feel plants and their surroundings, and an alphabet walkway of plants.
'Growing Good Kids - Excellence in Children's Literature'

The Junior Master Gardener Program and the American Horticultural Society honor engaging, inspiring works of plant, garden and ecology-themed children's literature through the "Growing Good Kids - Excellence in Children's Literature Awards" Program. (from

Several of the classic books for children listed on the Junior Master Gardener Web site include the following:

"The Giving Tree," by Shel Silverstein

"The Lorax," by Dr. Suess

"The Tale of Peter Rabbit," by Beatrix Potter

"Sunflower Sal," by Janet Anderson and Elizabeth Johns

"Miss Rumphius," by Barbara Cooney

"Sunflower House," by Eve Bunting and Kathryn Hewitt


The Children's Garden at VEG

Follow the animal tracks, enjoy the rainbow of colors, learn the letters of the alphabet and watch the fish swim in the fountain pond. Sites include:

Birding habitat

Butterfly habitat

Sensory garden

Native garden

Water fountain

Alphabet walkway