Any time is a good time to introduce a young child to gardening, but this season there are more reasons than ever. No school, no summer camp, and curtailed outdoor events have left parents with lots of kid hours to fill, even after school officially lets out, and filling them with time in a garden is reassuring and calming. If you have a garden, or have a small piece of ground that can be turned into a garden, you can give your favorite child a place to learn so many things: how seeds grow, where some of their food comes from, and how insects and bees are part of the growth cycle; and, once there’s some yield, you can go on to take the lessons into the kitchen in the form of dinner or snack preparation.

A child’s garden can be quite small; a plot the size of a large area rug will allow enough space for a variety of plants. Once you know the size of the plot, you can incorporate some math into the project. Get out some paper, pencils and a ruler and draw up a garden plan to start things off inside. Then decide what seeds or sets to include and where they’ll be planted. Once you’ve decided this, let the prospective gardener color the plan or decorate it any way they’d like: the point of a garden is to have some fun (although after a hot session of weeding or tilling it can be easy to forget this on the part of the adult member of the team).

Armed with a plan, head out to the garden with a tape measure, stakes and string and help your neophyte farmers lay out their beds. It isn’t strictly necessary to do this, but it’s another good way to incorporate measuring and math into the project. It isn’t even necessary to have a linear plot. A circular garden, planted in pie wedges around a central bean pole teepee big enough to shelter a child works just fine.

A field trip to a garden center, nursery or farmers market is the next step in the process, as you’ll want to let your child select some seeds and plants for their special plot. I feel that instant gratification is important when it comes to kids and gardens, so I would be inclined to steer them towards seed and plants that will yield quickly and deliver something they would enjoy picking and eating. Strawberry plants, which are already flowering, would allow picking of juicy red berries quite soon after planting. Cherry tomato plants will also yield early in summer. Flower plants like marigolds and zinnias will make a child’s garden look bright and pretty as they wait for seeds to begin to push through the soil. When it comes to seeds, larger ones like beans, sunflowers and cucumbers are easy for small hands to manage when it comes time to plant. Pole beans can climb a teepee, as previously mentioned, and sunflowers are a perfect natural bird feeder as the heads mature and form seeds. If you plant a dwarf cucumber like “Salad Bush” or “Spacemaster, ” bred to take up very little space, it’ll require a mere two to three square feet per plant. This mix of plants and seeds allows children, who can be impatient, to have something to watch for, with seeds that have to push through the soil, form leaves and then climb or twine, flower and fruit, while also having plants already in bloom or fruit to show admiring friends and relations.

While you’re out getting your seeds and starters, look for child-sized garden equipment. Most good garden centers have smaller trowels and spades and some offer kid-sized garden gloves and clogs and small watering cans as well. It’s worth it to invest a little money in a well-made tool, for several reasons. Cheap tools that aren’t actually made for gardening will only be frustrating to use if your child is trying to dig or rake in his or her plot. Also, a good set of tools can be taken to the beach for castle or moat building. Finally, sometimes even adults want to grab a small lightweight tool for a job, and if you’re lucky, your kid will share with you. I’ve always wished that common garden tools were half-sized for easier use and often found myself grabbing my kids’ tools, especially at the end of a long day in the garden when shoulders and hands had grown weary.

Math and measuring can come into play once again when you’re planting, as you decide distance between plants or length of rows and depth of seed planting. You can use watering as an opportunity to measure in cups and quarts. Throw some art into the mix by decorating plant markers. Paint anything you have around, from shingles or paint stirrers, clothespins clamped to twigs or smooth rocks. Paint up some canning jar lids and hot-glue them to skewers or paint some old spoons and stick the handles into the ground. These are good projects for a rainy day.

Once the plot is planted and growing, it makes a perfect spot to observe nature. Earthworms and bees and, yes, even the emergence of slugs, can be watched on a daily basis. A flower bud will form, then unfurl. Weeds will also emerge, of course, and your child might not be as eager to weed as they were to plant, but I think it’s important to let them decide for themselves how much work they want to do. I remember being so gratified, when I realized that even at age 4 my son could see the difference between a tiny carrot frond and a competing weed, that I hardly minded when he left the weeding to me after only a few minutes. He grew up to be an ardent gardener and no longer seems to mind weeding. The love of growing is what you want them to carry forward in life, not the memory of tedious toil.