Gardening has become a much more popular hobby for younger people over the last few years. Before we had kids Hubs and I would regularly spend a happy afternoon pottering round a garden centre and find ourselves chatting about tomato plants over dinner with friends. Now we’re trying to find ways to encourage the boys to get involved in the garden too and so far they seem to really enjoy it. Here are my top tips to get you started:
Safety first – It’s important to remember that some plants and bulbs can be dangerous if eaten (or sometimes just touched) so check first if your children are at an age where they still try to put everything in their mouths.
Size isn’t everything – Don’t worry if you don’t have a large space to devote to growing plants. A small flower bed is wonderful but kids will still enjoy helping to fill a pot on a patio or a window box. In fact even a pot plant on the window sill or a bit of cress grown in an egg shell can be enough to give them the gardening bug.
Embrace the dirt – No one will have any fun if they are worrying about trying to stay clean so wear wellies and old clothes that you can sling in the wash afterwards and dive in. Garden dirt really is pretty harmless although it’s best to ensure your flower beds aren’t doubling as a litter tray for local cats and of course make sure everyone washes their hands thoroughly when you’re finished.
A place of their own – Having their own ‘patch’ can help children develop a sense of ownership and pride in their gardening achievements. Forget your own sense of style and let them pick what to put where, then encourage them to keep an eye on their plants as they grow and do all the jobs they can manage by themselves.
Speed is of the essence – We know children don’t always have much patience so think about how long your chosen plants take to grow. Try to combine planting bulbs or seeds which take a long time to grow with the shop bought trays of small vegetable or bedding plants that are ready to plant out and show some growth quite quickly.
Help them to understand – Depending on their age try to talk to them day to day about how plants grow. With toddlers you might start by spotting fruit growing on trees or flowers starting to poke through the ground. As they get a bit older point out seeds and fruit stones when you come across them and explain that new plants can grow if you bury them and give them water and light. If you have little animal lovers talk about colourful flowers attracting bees, birds spreading seeds through their poo (a favourite with my boys!) or worms improving the soil. Older children can start to learn about photosynthesis and how energy from the sun passing to fruit and veg and then onto us when we eat them.
Get some help with the science – We can’t all be Alan Titchmarsh or Brian Cox so if you’re not confident talking about the scientific side of things look for age appropriate books or tv programmes to help you and keep an eye on what topics are being covered in school so you can carry on those talks at home with the help of the worksheets and resources used in class.
Nothing growing? – There’s plenty of fun to be had in the garden all year round while still engaging with the lifecycles and processes at work. How about a competition to find the biggest weed or spending some time piling up and jumping in leaves. Wildlife from ladybirds to hedgehogs can benefit from you building shelters and putting out food. You can also bring the outside in by using bark and leaf rubbings as the basis for lots of craft activities.
So those are my tips but I think mostly we should just get out there and have fun! What do your family like to do in the garden?
Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net