Whilst it is great to teach children about the joys of gardening from a very young age, it must never be done at the expense of safety, which should always be regarded as paramount. Accidents happen fast and it's the adult's responsibility to prevent them. It is important that your child understands from a very young age that there are rules to be adhered to and that he/she knows certain garden tools and materials are not to be handled without supervision. Children should be taught that safety comes first - be meticulous and strict; leave nothing to chance.

Growing with different ages

2-5 year olds

In this age group special care has to be taken so that children don't hurt themselves as they start helping mum and dad in the garden. This should be seen as an introductory phase above all else. A good idea is to get your youngster his/her own set of plastic/play tools just to get used to the idea of touching the soil and getting to know the implements. Small children learn fast when objects are colourful and pretty. Get him/her a children's wheelbarrow in one bright colour, a watering can in another, and pretty gloves in yet another. A multi-coloured bucket, for example, completes the set. Start slowly and gradually introduce them to other tools. In this age group it's best not to go too fast but lay a strong foundation for when they're older.

Good Ttps

At this age always ensure that:

  • Adult supervision is not negotiable
  • Any form of pool areas are enclosed and safety locks attached; the same applies to any area where unsupervised kids can get injured
  • Let the little ones wear sunscreen
  • Only adults handle fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals
  • Avoid the introduction of sharp/heavy tools at an early age
  • Only during the latter period of this phase do we introduce ''real'' tools, such as the fork and hand fork (with wooden handles if possible); a good size to start with measures at roughly 8 inches long
  • Let children have their first experience at planting something – a peach pit, a seed of any description. Let them water (with their own watering can) their little plant and follow its development from the moment it breaks the surface of the soil. Share in your child's experience

6-10 year olds

Once you (and your child) feel confident that the time is ripe for it, introduce him/her to other more functional, basic tools such as the rake, the shovel, the trowel, spades, garden scissors and multi purpose shears. Teach them how to use these tools. They need to understand what these are for: the shovel to pick up rubbish, the spade for digging holes and so on. Allow them to start helping with certain tasks and make them responsible for and proud of what they're doing. They can now help to prepare flowerbeds, picking up dirt and raking leaves together.

Putting seedlings in soil brings knowledge of growth to come, the understanding that preparation is the first step in creating one's garden, and with that the understanding that garden tools form part of the process. Now the wheelbarrow is no longer a toy, and neither is the watering can. During this phase your child starts to appreciate the value of garden tools and he/she gets accustomed to handling these.

The teenage gardener

Once your child has reached a proper level of responsibility (early to middle teens – not everybody is the same; only you will know your child) it is time to start allowing him/her to use tools on their own. However, it remains a good idea to be close at hand, to advise, to assist, to supervise. While Johnny digs holes, Jenny can busy herself with sweeping up leaves, Dad mows the lawn – Mum brings drinks and cake. Sounds happy? It should be. The emphasis remains on adult supervision, however.

This is also the phase to introduce your child, slowly, to the use of electrical garden appliances such as the lawnmower and the weeder. Different gardens require the use of different electrical appliances. Always make sure that all appliances are used in accordance with safety regulations and that electrical leads are properly insulated. Do not leave younger teenagers unattended.

Children of all ages enjoy experimenting in the garden and getting their hands dirty. Recognise this fact, lend a helping hand and introduce them, from as young as 2 years old, to the wonders of nature, which starts at your front/back door. Hand them the tools and watch as they flourish under your care and supervision.