We've had some cold, snowy weather here in the last week, and as much as I'd like to be out planting in the garden, it's just been too unpleasant to spend much time outside with a toddler. So we've been finding the usual things to do inside: reading, playing hide and seek, and having tea with Spider Man. But my two-year-old is starting to take an interest in activities involving fine motor skills, and although we have a few sewing cards that she loves, we don't have many other options. So I thought I'd try to come up with something spring-related to keep her occupied and get her ready to head out to the garden in a couple of weeks.The result: a shoe box garden. I had all of the materials around the house and was able to put it together in a couple of hours while the kid was napping, so I encourage you all to give it a try. It gives toddlers great practice with hand-eye coordination and starts to teach them about where food comes from.
Here's how the shoe box garden is made:

The materials you'll need are:

A shoe box
Heavy card stock, dirt colored if you have it
Green, orange and pink card stock or construction paper
Blunt-pointed toothpicks
Craft knife (it makes life easier, but scissors will do if that's what you've got)
Pattern for vegetables, which you can download and print here.

Once you've printed the pattern page, cut out each shape and use it as a template to trace and cut as many of each vegetable as you'd like from paper of the appropriate color.

Instructions for assembling vegetables:

Carrot: Roll the paper starting on a long edge, with the point forming at the narrower end, and glue the outer edge down. At the top, make several small snips so that you can fold the top edge down into the inside of the carrot. Cut out the carrot top and snip the edges to make it feathered. Put a dab of glue down into the hole at the top of the carrot, insert the carrot top, and set aside to dry.

Cabbage: Roll the cabbage piece starting at the smaller end of the pattern, trying to arrange it so that the leaves don't line up on every round. Glue the outer edge down and fold the outer leaves toward the outside to expose the inner leaves a little.

Pea Plant: Once you've cut out each plant and as many peas as you'd like, cut a small slit on the ends of the branches you'd like to hold peas. Slip the "stem" ends of the peas into the slits.

Flower: Cut out the circle, and starting on the outside, cut it into a spiral, all the way to the center. Then, starting with the outer end, roll the spiral up to form a flower (the end you begin rolling from will be the center of the flower). Put a bit of glue into the inside of the flower from the bottom and insert a toothpick as the stem.

To put the "dirt" in the shoe box, measure the width of your shoe box and mark that measurement in the center of your card stock. Fold down the two sides to fit along the edges of the inside of the box. If you can, make it a snug fit so that the paper doesn't get pushed down into the box too far. You can glue the paper to the inside of the box if you want to, but I left mine loose so that I can store the vegetables under the dirt when it's put away.

You can then remove the "dirt" paper and mark where you want to plant the vegetables. Cut holes just larger than the diameter of your cabbages, just smaller than the top edge of the carrots, and cut slits for the pea plants. Poke holes with a small nail for the flowers' toothpick stems.

Put your vegetable in their rows and you're done!



I hope you enjoy making and using this garden. My toddler loves pulling the vegetables and flowers out of their holes and very carefully putting them back in. She's great at picking the peas off their plants, though it'll be a bit before she's able to put them back on. I hope she enjoys playing with it for a long time!

If you make a garden with your kids, we'd love to see how it turns out. Share a picture with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. Have fun planting!