Toddler Gardening: Why You Should Be Growing Things

Four years ago we were renting a small suburban home in Norfolk. Then we bought a 30 acre farm in Southwest VA. Cause doesn’t everyone?

No, our rationale wasn’t that cavalier but to save time (and your interest) I’ll summarize: we felt strongly about being in charge of our own food sources, ensuring we knew the kind of life the animals we consumed had, and having opportunities for our children to grow up in what we envisioned was the best fit for us. It doesn’t mean what we’re doing is right and what other people are doing is wrong. It just means this was the best fit for our family. Live and let live, ya’ll.

Part of that has been a yearly expansion of a garden. I’m doing pretty well this year and will need to upgrade to a canning system next year but in order to do all of that, I need helpers. That’s right- Bebop and Rocksteady to the rescue.

Also, I’m a big fan of toddler chores and functional skills. If you ask me to create a novel therapy plan for my patients, I’m going to pick tasks like slicing bananas and folding laundry first and add the speech therapy targets second. It’s likely I should have been an OT but there is no time for grad school remorse here.

So, because 30 acres is a lot and because I’m all about that functional generalization of life skills, I bring the kids to the garden with me. Here’s what that helps out with:

– learning early science concepts like how things grow, weather, etc.

– socioemotional development like responsibility, achieving goals, etc.

– sensory development (touch, taste, smell, sight, sounds…all of them)

– feeding development: have a picky eater? Kids who participate in growing or even just helping cook their food are more likely to try a bite (and even like) new foods

– fine motor skills: crossing midline with a shovel, bilateral coordination getting plants in the ground, pincer grasp picking up seeds, core strengthening digging in the dirt (and about 329482094823 other things!)

– language development: identifying and labeling all kinds of new vocabulary- food vocab, descriptive words, actions, sequencing words, following directions….literally everything you do in the garden can be a speech therapy target. Do you know when Ari said the word “okra”? When she grew it. When Caleb first said “pick”? When he did it. It’s more fun to talk about what you’re actually doing than what other people are doing…..

There is also a lot of research that subscribes to the same notion I do about gardening: it improves both your physical and mental well being. It’s exercise, there are healthy microbes in the dirt you’re digging in, and it alleviates stress and anxiety- take it out on the weeds, not each other, everybody!

Check out my littles learning skills in the garden that are going to generalize to other functional tasks, expand their vocabulary, and prepare their hands for important things like writing and typing!

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Is that two children cooperating on one task together? Why yes it is!




Remember what I said about being open to new foods? Caleb picked these himself and started licking and tasting them immediately without a prompt or having Velveeta melted on top. Have you ever seen a kid look so lovingly at a broccoli crown?!?!

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You can’t see it happening, but all kinds of fine motor control and strengthening is going down with the shucking of the corn and the picking of the grape tomatoes…….

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Heavy work sensory input from picking and hauling melons? You know it.



Time to talk about it all while you take it out of the box! Also, sorting was super fun for my kiddos with the fresh produce.

Grow some things. Maybe an herb or a flower in a pot on the kitchen counter. Life’s more fun with a little dirt mixed in 🙂

Here’s a video clip of Caleb saying “pick” while he harvested the banana peppers (I don’t even like banana peppers but I sure do love the kid doing the picking!!!).

Love, Autism, and Tomato Plants,


Holler at me!