How To Garden Safely with Children at Home or in School

Safe Gardening Practices

Gardening is in my list of top five learning activities. It's natural, therapeutic, hands-on, interactive and a great learning tool. Whether you teach plant care, botany lessons or gardening at home with your children or in school as a teacher, there are several areas to consider and steps to follow to ensure safety.

  1. Avoid toxic plants. Brush up on poisonous plants and make sure that you do not incorporate of them in your gardening project. Remember that plants may have some poisonous parts and some non-toxic parts, such as berries, flowers, roots, stems, etc. Know the toxicity level of any plant you will grow. Check the link below for a rundown of safe and unsafe plants.
  2. Familiarize yourself with any student allergies or asthma problems. Make sure that no one is allergic to any plant you will use. Allergies can manifest themselves in odd ways including skin rashes, respiratory problems, hay fever, vomiting, bleeding, etc. Students may have allergies to peanuts, mold, dust, pollen, leaves and insect stings. Know your students' health history before you prepare to garden, especially if you work with young children who may put things in their mouths.
  3. Select gardening tools carefully. Look for well-made tools that are appropriate for the age you work with. Metal spades, hoes, trowels, rakes and trimmers are very sharp.
  4. Teach children how to safely use tools. Demonstrate how to hold, use and clean tools.
  5. Monitor children at all times. Even older students can be silly or careless when using equipment. Students may also forget how to use tools. Keep an eye out.
  6. Remove gardening privileges if necessary. If a student is careless, heedless or rough remove his privileges. Gardening is a great activity and lots of fun. Children need to know that it is a privilege that can be removed if necessary. I always keep a supply of boring worksheets on hand and give these out if students are fooling around. I tell the student that if she can't do the fun lessons properly, then she will have to do dull mindless work where she will be safe.
  7. Beware or fertilizers, plant food and pesticides. These products are deadly poisonous. Do not use these chemicals with young children.
  8. Explore organic fertilizers and pesticides. Organic products should still be used with care, but they are much safer.
  9. Experiment with natural fertilizers and pesticides. The Native Americans used fish heads for fertilizer. They would place fish heads around their corn plants. Composting is a perfect venue for natural gardening. Planting marigolds around a garden will keep rodents out of the garden.
  10. Build a bat house near your garden if it is outside. The bats will be delighted to keep your insect population down.
  11. Know your garden bugs. Some garden pests are dangerous to humans also. We had tomato plants in our school garden. Tomato plants attract a huge green caterpillar. We were able to remove the caterpillars safely by hand.
  12. Wear gardening gloves. This will help protect children from thorns, scratches, callouses, blisters, stings and bites.
  13. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Like gloves, these will protect children when gardening. I like to avoid using insect spray on children. Proper clothing can help.
  14. Wear sunhats or visors. This will protect children from sun and insects. Hats with netting work even better.
  15. Obtain a bee sting kit. If any student has a bee sting allergy, he will need treatment immediately if he is stung.
  16. Have a first aid kit ready. Check periodically to be sure it is stocked. Keep hand sanitizer with you at all times. This can disinfect a cut if necessary.
  17. Keep child emergency cards with you.
  18. Carry a cell phone or walkie-talkie.
  19. Wash hands after any work with plants. This is not just for cleanliness. Hand washing can prevent the spread of any toxins picked up in the garden.

Gardening and plant care is a superb way to bring the real world into the classroom. With these safety tips, you'll be ready for any problem that may come up.


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