Strawberries are a good plant for a beginner gardener to try with children.
You will need:
a garden bed, pots or other containers
You may like to add a small trowel, child-size gloves, watering cans and mulch so as to add to the experience, but they are not necessary.
First you need some kind of garden bed or pot or container. Raised beds are great for preschool gardening, as they are at the right height for children to eyeball the plants, they protect educators backs, and they save plants from being walked on a lot. But strawberries also grow well in pots.
You could make your own pots from repurposed containers – formula tins, or upside down 2 litre milk or juice bottles with the bottom cut off. Punch holes in the bottom so they drain. If you get the children to help make them you get an extra project and sense of ownership.
You can use soil from your garden. The advantage of using potting mix is that it is rich in nutrients, and a texture plants like so you won’t need to do anything else to it.
Buy strawberry plants from a nursery. Do not use runners. (Runners are strawberry plants that have self-propagated from the original plant. A long shoot puts out its own roots and grows into a separate plant. Runners do not fruit reliably, and are susceptible to disease.) Your local nursery will have the varieties that grow in your area, and stock them at the right time of year.
Choose a sunny spot in the garden.
Decide which parts of the job you want the children to participate in, and how. You could have the bed or pots ready, and the children could do the planting. They could do the whole lot. They could watch you do it. You can do it with one or two children, or small groups, or everyone. It depends how you like to work.
To plant a strawberry plant, prepare a hole in the soil, take the strawberry plant out of its pot or punnet, tease out the roots a little, place it in the hole, push the soil back over the roots, and tamp it down. Once all of the crowns are planted, water them in. The idea is for the water to wash the soil and roots into close contact.
Get the children to water the plants regularly. If they are planted in potting mix in containers you should not have to worry about the danger of overwatering, as they will drain well.
The strawberry fruit forms from the centre of the flowers. They will grow green, then get pale before they turn red. Once they turn red, they are ready to eat (though they may still have white patches).
As the fruit starts to ripen, you may need to protect it from birds or snails. Snail pellets cannot be used with children around, so you will need an organic solution. If you have a snail problem, make a ring of sand or sawdust around each plant. You can also put out a flat dish (such as a jar lid) with beer in it. Snails are less of a danger for small pots hung on a fence or somewhere. If birds are a problem, cover the ripening fruit with a piece of mesh.
If you have a large group, don’t expect to be able to grow enough for everyone to eat them on the same day. Eat them a few at a time, as they ripen. If you would like to have a strawberry eating activity for the whole group, harvest a few from your own garden, and supplement them with bought ones.
Some children are allergic to strawberries, so check before you start. It would be a shame to put in the effort only to find one child cannot fully participate.