Get the kids gardening

Recently I was asked, when did I first developed the gardening bug? I received a tiny greenhouse, some peat pots and seeds as a Christmas present at the age of four. The following summer I busted out the kit and got going, growing nasturtiums. This early interest not only influenced my degree but also my current career. And has me thinking how important it is for children to have lots of different experiences and environments in order to learn.

The garden can be a great source of fun, fresh air and exercise, children will develop new skills and learn about science and nature whilst spending time in the garden, and the biggest bonus is it’s FREE or minimal cost involved. No better time than the summer holidays when you need to fill their days with activities other than the TV or gaming.

Getting Started

A great way to get started with gardening is to plant quick-sprouting seeds, so that impatient little ones can see the results of their hard work without much waiting around! Sunflowers, cress and salad seeds provide really easy results and are a simple way to explain the process of planting seeds and seeing the rewards. Nasturtiums grow so fast and are so colourful what kid can’t get excited by them. Plus they produce seeds which grow into more plants which seems like magic when you are a kid!

Quick sprouting seeds

Herbs such as basil and mint or vegetables such as tomatoes and lettuce are a fantastic next step.

Set aside some old clothes as ‘gardening clothes’, working in the garden has a high mess factor that children love so it’s a good idea to wear something that you don’t mind them getting messy.

Aside from growing, there are so many different activities to entice all age groups into the garden, check out some of our suggestions below, some of which I’ll expand on in this blog:

  • Weeding – get them working young I say 😉
  • Watering plants and vegetables – I’ve never met a kid that doesn’t love watering!
  • Picking fruit and vegetables – it’s important that children understand where our food comes from.
  • Composting, recycling and mulching – it’s never too young to learn about the cycle of life.
  • Deadheading flowers – although they need to be old enough to be safe with secateurs.
  • And don’t forget to teach them about pollinating insects too; bees, hover flies, butterflies etc
Kids gardening

Safety First

It’s vitally importantly to consider safety first when it comes to children in the garden, depending on the age of your children. What’s fine for one child might not be for another, so trust your instinct, you know your children best. You also need to think about how quickly they will grow and develop so a flexible plan is ideal.

If you are in the design stages and would specifically like a child friendly garden check out my previous blog.

Don’t forget sun cream and sun hats. Even on days that aren’t particularly sunny, long spells in the garden mean that children still need skin protection. Create a shaded area for them to carry out their activities during the hottest part of the day.

Create a Wildlife Pond

Older children get a lot of pleasure from a pond, like watching tadpoles develop into frogs, counting pond skaters and seeing a dragon fly is always a magical moment. Plus introducing a pond is the best way to create new habitat in your garden for the local wildlife. It’s definitely something you can do as a family.

Pick your spot ideally in the sunshine, as that is much better for the wildlife.

  • You will need a pond liner, good spade digging, rocks for the edges, sand and aquatic plants
  • Dig a hole with a couple of shelves, at the deepest part it should be 3 feet approximately
  • Have one side gentle sloping so wee beasties can crawl out
  • Line the area with sand
  • Then spread the liner over the sand, hold it in place with the rocks around the edges
  • Fill gradually with water, ideally with rainwater but tap water is fine if there isn’t enough rain
  • Place the plants on the shelves in aquatic planting baskets, they will probably come in these but check and buy them if they don’t
  • Wait for the fauna to discover their new digs

Check out the wildlife trusts website for more details:

Make a bug hotel

Make a Bug Hotel

If you haven’t got the space or skills to dig a pond, why don’t you make a bug hotel.

Insects are an essential part of a healthy garden, they eat the pests, pollinate the plants, break down the leaf litter and feed the birds. Teaching children about this cycle of life is so important to have them truly connect with nature. Bug hotels encourage the bugs to stay in your garden by providing them with some shelter.

There are some very fancy bug hotels on the market, but they are so simple to make and it’s a great project for kids. In this case one of my younger buddies has achieved a brilliant result with logs, twigs and stems. You can also add moss, dry leaves, and bamboo canes.

For extra fancy use an old pallet as a frame and unwanted roof tiles to keep the rain off. An excellent project to amuse the kids for at least a couple of hours!

Education Through Gardening

Learning where our food comes from is essential to developing respect for the earth and its resources. Kids don’t always understand why it’s important not to waste food. But seeing how much work it takes to grow food will give them a new appreciation for why the earth’s resources are so necessary!

Research has shown that kids acquire a connection with nature through foraging, which makes complete sense from an evolutionary perspective, as this is how young children would have learned how to gather food from their mothers.  So even picking fruit and vegetables will help them learn.

You can have great fun measuring, labelling and watering a garden as well as eating it, if you choose edible options. Lettuce and other salad veg are normally fast growing so even if you have a small space you can have a system of planting every week or so for a continuous supply. It’s worth buying a little propagator too.

The BBC has some great ideas on how to inspire play in the garden, check out their website.

Gardening for food

The Rewards

Finally make sure your kids get to fully enjoy the fruits of their labour. Enjoy food from your garden together and involve them in the cooking process, showing them how to pick vegetables from the garden, wash them, and prepare them for a meal that you will share with the family.

Kids ask plenty of questions, which is also evident while gardening, it’s a great way to stimulate their curiosity and help them learn at the same time. You probably won’t need to prompt, a few minutes in a garden, and kids will start asking questions.

So if you have a garden get them out there, this week!