Allowing children to connect in their own ways, in a space that is safe, inviting, and playful, aids in the development of beneficial lifelong habits that can lead to regular physical activity and healthy lifestyles.
Many kid-friendly plants not only have practical use, like being edible, but also engage kids in other exciting ways like auditory and olfactory stimulation achieved through rattling seedpods or scented flowers, leaves, and bark. Plants like jewelweed and hairy bittercress have fun names, and their seeds are spring-loaded which, when ripe, will fly through the air at the slightest touch. Many plants are also great at attracting pollinators or repelling unwanted pests, and any of these characteristics have the potential of opening up an enormous wealth of educational opportunities with a little imagination.
Of the many edible kid-friendly plants, my favorites are found in the abundance of common culinary herbs you may be familiar with and already have in your kitchen. Some popular examples include basil, mint, and sage, all of which are easily grown as annuals or perennials in a garden or container. These herbs can be used to make tea, to bake with, to infuse into butter or honey, or to incorporate in any other ways one sees fit. Culinary herbs are not only safe for kids, but they’re fun, sensory plants offering a plethora of learning opportunities with which one can study plant and leaf forms, flower parts, pollination, and more. Other fun plants to consider are carnivorous plants that have unique leaf and flower structures and can help to illustrate the life cycles of insects.
Engaging with kids through gardening with kid-friendly plants encourages a sense of responsibility and patience, while building self-confidence, compassion, and dedication—all while providing a well-rounded foundation for the future stewards of our planet.
a busy bee
More kid-friendly plant selections to consider:
- Mints –spearmint/peppermint
- Lavender, calendula, sunflowers, rosemary, sage, chives
- Rose, milkweed, marigolds
- Heart-ease pansies, catnip
- Thyme, lemon balm
- Aloe, chamomile, spring-flowering bulbs
- Chicory, nasturtiums, honeysuckle, lilac
- Veggies: carrots, beets, spinach, lettuce, corn, squash, peas, onions, beans, strawberries, blueberries, and more.
carnivorous bog plants
Jen Dunlap is Horticulture Program Manager at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens where she spends her time designing landscapes and cultivating the Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden. A native of Brunswick, Maine, she has a degree in horticulture and landscape design and holds an advanced certificate in Western Herbal Medicine. After studying, designing, and gardening in the Pacific Northwest and Colorado, for a combined 12 years, she is happily settled back in Maine raising her two young children alongside a bountiful vegetable and herb garden. All photos courtesy of the author.