Little Sprouts

Fun Spring Things

by cathym on May 17, 2019

by Valerie Shaw

It’s spring! For moms everywhere, this is a triumphant announcement for many reasons—no more itchy, smothered kids complaining about winter coats, the games of tag and pinch your brother can move outside, and the gardening season is in full swing! But how do you convince your tween to switch from building square Minecraft gardens on the Wii U to going outside into the great—and sometimes uncomfortable—outdoors? The answer is, make gardening fun! Here are a slew of ideas to help your kiddos open their minds and hearts to your green space. 

• Get them involved. Like cooking, grocery shopping, and even learning to drive, learning alongside Mom or Dad and taking over smaller chores will lead to mastery over big ones later. Have your little ones count and set seeds, select plants, and water. Simply being asked, “What do you think?” is a big thing. 

Garden gnome. Photo courtesy Flickr: Ann Oro

• Garden decor. Kids love, adore, and cherish garden statues. Right now, all of mine are hiding in two stick tepees, as the kids were protecting them from yard trolls. They move around the yard, sometimes in the spots I put them, sometimes wherever the kids’ imaginations transport them. And yes, garden gnomes are a huge hit. I found a slew of them at the dollar store one year and those little dudes travel all over our yard all summer. Other terrific decor items can include solar lights (they are coming out with cooler ones every year, including solar fairy light chains!), decorative rocks, and whimsical planters. Just remember that children are hard on things. Resin and stone hold up, while glass and thin ceramic do not and are not good for younger children’s spaces. 

• Water features. I wrote about this last year, but it bears repeating. Kids are attracted to water like ducks to a pond. Even if it’s just a bird bath or butterfly drinking pool, bring in water and they will want to help you care for it. Our favorite over here is our froggy pond—truly, it’s a giant, perpetual puddle, but I dug it out so that it’s deep enough to weather the sun of July, and we put boards over it for bridges and an old log for frogs and salamanders to hide under. If you don’t already have a wet spot in your yard, you could sink a kiddie pool down to soil level and disguise the edges with rocks or mulch. Another simple option is the storage tote pond. Just remember, with any water feature, mosquitoes are an issue. Remember to change the water often, or you can add goldfish to eat them, or purchase biological preventative pellets to kill the larvae. 

• Cool plants. There are so many terrifically interesting plant choices out there—let your kids choose one or two to be their plants. Simply having ownership of their plant will encourage them to get on out and explore. Last year we found purple clover. Chocolate peppermint, lemon grass, bunny tail grass, pineapple strawberries, and lemonade blueberries—these crazy things are all actual plants we have enjoyed in the garden! 

• A welcoming zone. Bugs, sun, and dirt. Nature is sometimes our biggest foe, despite all the fun we can have out there. Making sure you have the basic gear to enjoy the outdoors is key to your kids getting engaged. A good pair of rubber boots will protect little toes and a selection of big floppy hats will keep off the sun and light rain showers. Make a station by your door and have a go-to box filled with hats, trowels, jersey gloves, sunscreen and bug spray. You’ll all use it, and it’ll make life better. 

• Just try. The last thing I’ll leave you with is this—great gardeners don’t have magical green thumbs. They have a willingness to observe, a spirit to learn and try, and the courage to murder plants until they figure them out. So, be brave, and bold, and get out there- with your kiddos! 

Valerie Shaw is a longtime plant murderer, YMCA youth coach, goat-wrangler, and fruit tree crusader. She encourages you to practice radical exuberance in your own backyards this summer, and give those hard-pressed honeybees and butterflies some great pollen. You can email her at


Think Spring!

by cathym on April 1, 2019

by Valerie Shaw

The wind is howling, my daughter is home sick, and the snow can’t seem to decide whether it will melt, harden into ice, or smother us in another five inches. It’s starting to feel like winter will never end! Yet, beneath that icy layer, things are getting ready to change. Believe it or not, it’s time to start thinking Spring! 

Mini Greenhouses
How about some fresh veggies, right now? In our sunny living room, we’re trying something new this year. My son calls it, “Let Us Have Lettuce!” It’s easy, inexpensive, and fun. First, get a clear tote, with a lid, and a bag of potting soil (not starter, that’s different). Place the lid of the tote where you want the greenhouse; it’ll get heavy, so make sure it’s a sturdy table. Lay the bag of soil flat on this, and then cut a wide rectangle in the bag’s top, making a little garden bed. Fluff slightly with a fork or other tool, then generously sprinkle lettuce, kale, spinach, or other salad green seeds. Water gently, pat down the seeds a little. Now take the clear tote, and put it upside down over the lid. Our lettuce sprouted the very next day! If it’s too gloomy, you can use a halogen or other growing light to help your little sprouts. Just the same as any other method, if it gets very sunny and warm, make sure to lift the tote for airflow so you don’t cook your seedlings. You can use this this idea outside once it warms a little, too! This method also has the added perk of protecting your seedlings from too-curious little fingers, or interested family cats. You might also try growing radishes, herbs, or mini carrots this way.

Planning Ahead
One of the biggest pieces of advice I give both kids and parents doesn’t even need a trowel. Read! Read those catalogs, and read those seed packets before you rip ‘em open. Kids get hooked on gardening when they are successful at it, and reading ahead is one of the best ways to make sure that happens. For example, if you’re buying a blueberry bush, make sure it’s intended for your area. There are northern and southern varieties, and choosing the wrong one will waste a summer’s worth of work, and your moola, too. 

Garden Planning
Get out your pencils! Now is a great time to plan ahead and make some garden plans. It’s prime seed catalog time, and soon the nurseries will be filling with green choices. Think about the veggies your family likes to eat, and try a few new varieties. Or take the Veggie Challenge: As a family, pick a vegetable you don’t like, but know you should. Grow a few plants of it, and see how many different ways you can eat it. Maybe one will be a winner! Sometimes, we just have to try something a few times to change our minds. 

If you don’t have one yet, now is a great time to start a garden journal. No fancy book needed, a notebook will do! Colored pencils and stickers can help kids add their own touches to your records. Make sure to write down any funny or interesting memories, too.

Mom‘s Strawberry Jam. Photo courtesy Flickr: Meal Makeover Moms

Berry Good  
I highly recommend strawberry plants for children; they’re just so joyful and easy. Have the child paint a big flowerpot whatever colors they choose, put in some potting soil, and three to five strawberry plants. Or make a little garden bed out in the yard. And here’s a fun painting project that is very useful: painting a handful of strawberry-sized rocks can trick your local birds into leaving your juicy berries alone! Simply paint the rocks a jolly berry red (acrylic paint works great), and place in your strawberry patch a few weeks before your berries come in. The birds will attempt to “eat” them, decide that these are the worst berries ever, and then leave your patch unscathed when the real fruit ripens. Remember, “June bearing” strawberries will make a ton of berries all at once, great for making jam. “Ever-bearing” will keep pumping out berries for a longer season, but less at once.    

Pumpkin Club
This last idea is actually a year-long project, ideal for school, church, or other groups. It would be good fun in a close neighborhood, or group of friends! The group all buys a packet of pumpkin seeds, and plants them at the same time. Once a month, someone hosts a “pumpkin party”, and kids can share their growing tips and show off how their vines are doing. There’s a ton of fascinating methods on the Internet for growing big pumpkins (did you know some people feed them milk?). In October, there’s a final Harvest party, where everyone brings their ‘kins. Prizes can be given out for the biggest, the cutest, the most orange, spookiest, and so on. It’s a great way to bring families together for some gardening fun! 

Valerie Shaw lives in West Monroe, NY, with her lettuce-loving family, some silly goats, and too many wild deer that prematurely prune her fruit trees. She’s a youth coach at the Y, an avid gardener, and a painter that also loves to write long novels. She can be reached at for any kid-related gardening questions!


Cold Weather Garden Fun

by cathym on December 3, 2018

by Valerie Shaw

Ice balls. Photo courtesy Flicker: Robbie Sproule.

There’s nothing like the blue sky of an autumn day. Now it’s time to bring in the garden statues, take notes on your garden successes and failures, and prepare your garden for winter. Acorns, pumpkins, and beautiful leaves invite children outside for one last romp before the snow comes. The gardening fun doesn’t have to completely end, though! Here are some activities to keep your li’l green thumbs engaged throughout the cold months ahead.

Snow Poppies—Now is a good time to grab a packet of poppy seeds and spy out a prime poppy area in your garden or yard. Tuck the seed packet in the fridge and wait until a good snowy day. Then, pull on the snow boots, hike out to your spot, and scatter your poppy seeds in the snow! With the melting snow the tiny seeds are drawn into the soil. Come spring, look out for the slightly spiky looking leaves, followed by intriguing fuzzy stems with big flower buds. Poppies are cheerful and fun, and kids will like planting in the snow! Remember, though, that poppy plants will spread. If your kids are older, they might enjoy learning about the historical nature of this beautiful flower.

Ice Gazing Balls—Easy and very fun to make, you can stick these anywhere in your yard, and enjoy them as long as the temperatures stay cold. Simply fill balloons with water and several drops of food coloring. Stick them in your freezer or outside. When they’re solid, run them quickly beneath hot water and peel off the balloons. You’ll have made beautiful round ice balls that will reflect the pale winter sunshine. If you want to stick them to a railing or other object outside, you can use water to “glue” them in place. We made a series of them and stuck them on the arm of our mailbox—the kids thought they were amazing, and they looked very pretty for several days!

Sachets—If you’ve been collecting flowers or drying herbs from your garden, a simple sewing craft that many kids enjoy is making scented sachets, or scented hot pads. They also make great presents for the holidays. Using felt and a larger needle can make the project easier for small children. Old flannel shirts or other clothing with nice fabric can be a reusable resource, or hit the store and enjoy all of the beautiful fabric designs.

Homemade potpourri is another fragrant way to enjoy plants indoors. A simple recipe we use is as follows: The peel of one orange, a stick of cinnamon (or a teaspoon of powdered), and either powdered or whole cloves. Put the ingredients into a pot with two cups of water. Cook on medium until the scent starts wafting, then turn the heat down to low. (Also, of note, don’t use clementine peels. Though the fruit is yummy to eat, the rinds don’t smell good at all.) There are other great recipes at:

Dream, Gardener, Dream—One surefire antidote to the February blahs is the arrival of seed catalogs. Now is a good time to sign up for all the catalog joy. Try some new nurseries, and don’t forget to let your kids look through them too. Our little gardeners love putting their initials next to veggies they want to eat and flowers they want to plant. Some fun nurseries that might be new to you are Baker Creek (, the Cook’s Garden, Fedco Seeds, Pinetree Garden Seeds, and Thompson & Morgan.

And lastly, don’t forget houseplants—Geraniums come in many fun scents, like pineapple and rose, and are easy to grow in a sunny window. Head out to a nursery and you’ll be sure to find childhood favorites—pink polka dot plants, strange carnivores, and easy-to-care-for succulents. Many of the herbs you love outside can come in too. Just watch out for any insect hitchhikers when bringing in garden plants. (A brief quarantine is never a bad idea.)

Remember, spring is only a few months away! Happy holidays to you all.


Valerie Shaw is a homeschool mom, YMCA youth coach, and gardener with a yard that rather ran away with her this year. She lives with her husband and two kids in West Monroe, NY, and is excitedly awaiting spring, and the new batch of little goat kids that are due in March.