Let Them Grow: Planting and Water Stations for Toddlers

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Next Stop: Planting Station

Spring is here and its time finally to start that garden. 
Toddlers love to play in the dirt, but are not always the most gentle with seedling and plant. This is a great learning opportunity, a time to teach your young children about the delicate parts of nature. Demonstrate to them how a stick is easy to snap; however, a seedling can break with just a gust of wind. At dinner time make the connection between food you serve and how it is grown and harvested.

Let your toddler explore the magic of the life cycle of plants by creating a planting station for them. Use an existing sand/water table or a child size picnic table to create an area just for them.  Here is what you will need…

Planting Station

  • Two trays, shallow containers or shoeboxes
  • Organic potting soil
  • Shovels (spoon, rake, scoops,)
  • Hand washing bucket and watering jar
  • Child friendly shovel
  • Large “seeds” (walnuts, peas, beans, popcorn, garlic cloves)
  • Apron
  • Child friendly craft scissors

Prepare an area with organic potting soil, a shovel and the seeds. Have everything accessible as you would for yourself when beginning a garden. Allow your child to fully explore the rich dirt, using terms like, moist, composted, healthy, and alive to describe the soil… the growing medium of life! Give them several tools to explore the soil, supplying them with scoops and a spoon as a shovel. Children love to move dirt, so include a second tray along side the first to transfer dirt to and plant the “seeds.”

Annual seeds (peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, beets) are very hard for small hands to manipulate. Use larger seeds that are manageable and can be seen in the soil. Depending on your child’s age avoid a choking hazards. Popcorn kernals and walnuts can be fun for older toddlers. Use things like pea or bean seeds, large nuts, stone fruit pits, garlic cloves or found objects. Incorporate dried leaves, little twigs and other compostable material left over from last spring. Use this time to explain growing and non-growing parts of the plants. Teach them which part of a plant will flower and how this plant will need to be cared for to grow.  Older toddlers love scissors. This is a great opportunity to let them have test their cutting skills. Give them plenty of materials and allow them to trim with their own child friendly craft scissors.

Watering Station

To make a toddler friendly outdoor hand-washing and water station, fill a small bucket with water and secure it down or be prepared to refill it over and over. Let your child water their seeds. Include a small container with holes in the bottom, or a small watering can. Place the water station a few feet away from the planting station to allow them to have to walk back and forth to transfer the water. This not only poses a challenge, but also helps instill the understanding that water is not always readily and easily accessible. Keep the bucket clean to avoid bacterial growth and have a towel handy to dry hands, (you may want to secure this too and include a small rag in the bucket).

Be prepared that your child (even with the hand-washing) will be covered in mud and soaking wet by the end of this activity. As you can imagine, this activity will be messy. The soil will be in the water bucket in no time and the seeds will be planted in unknown locations. Messy is great and kids are washable! I love messy. Messy is what messy does. It teaches, entertains and encourages. This activity will turn from soil and seeds to mud and seeds, but your child will have the opportunity to do that, to cause that- and what toddler doesn’t love mud pies?


Candice Chouinard has worked with youth of all ages and backgrounds, creating and implementing programing for children. She revels in hand-on, long-term, messy projects that are both fun and educational. Candice comes from a background in creative writing, as well as, child development and psychology. She owns and operates a day care in Northampton, MA.

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