I’ve been feeling a little guilty since the weather turned to the normal dull grey, light winds and drizzle that we’re used to. The heat killed me. Sucked my energy dry and when the kids didn’t want to go outside I signed a whopper sigh of relief. But now I’m thinking we should have taken advantage of that glorious sunshine! I had good intentions of course but blistering heat changed my mind. The
death trap trampoline saw fewer bounces and the chickens grew lonely. The garden in turn grew wild! But I did get the green fingers out and convinced Little Miss to do some gardening and spruce up a few bushes with me. Was she impressed? Not particularly but the “muddy bits were fun!”
I’ll admit I’ve been anxious of the amount of TV that has blared through the house this summer. Even Little Bean has taken to pointing at the TV saying her usual “Ehh” when its off meaning “For the love of God Mama, where have the pictures gone!?” I don’t give in to her because, well, she’s one but when the four year old asks I’ve learnt to just put a DVD on and walk away. To be fair her choice of DVDs of late have been Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mary Poppins and my old favourite Meet Me In St Louis.
But lets face it many of us are worried about the amount of time our kids spend with heads buried in screens, remaining inattentive to the world around them. How many times have you called your kid for a distracted “huh?” as they raise their head from Angry Birds. Sometimes it can feel like a battle to get them to engage more with the great outdoors… on their own I may add. But what four year old is happy to spend more than ten minutes running around the garden on their own? For me, imaginative play is tough and I need my solitude (I wrote about this aspect of my parenting life for The Irish Times recently. Check it out here.) Or I need something that will hold my attention for longer than playing on the swings or pretending I can bounce without getting a stitch after one minute on the trampoline.
So to get me and the kids outside I brought the mud in. Compost. Plants. And lots of messy water. Kids love the outdoors, even though they seem to be having a love affair with their “iPads (everything’s an iPad even when its not an iPad). They like to get messy which is usually a good draw to gardening. I set up an awesome homemade mud kitchen, thrown together with a few pallets and intuitive design. It has certainly been a draw to the garden and helpful with gardening!
We have a hefty lump of land with plenty of hedging, grass, nooks and crannys and plants that circle a large pond with beautiful Koi. Theres plenty of space and plenty to do. Finding a way to pique their interest will encourage them outside more to explore and learn and love their surroundings (and hopefully not annoy Momma Bear with “come on the trampoline”.) Little Miss is slowly getting into gardening. With the chickens, the fish and seeing certain plants grow she has a slight interest which I plan on working on more so that her little sister follows suit. By next summer I’ll have two brilliant helpers for when the gardening needs a bit of sprucing up!
Here are my tips on getting the fingers painted green.
Firstly, gardening is a great choice for encouraging kids to go outside more. No matter how many swings, slides, and trampolines you have, they will always want to explore. Gardening isn’t just something that they can actively participate in. It is something that they can come back to every day. Even if you’re only growing the simplest of plants, your kids should be fascinated by watching the progress that the plant makes each day.
Not only will it be an enjoyable and educational experience for them, it will also teach them a number of skills and lessons that are applicable to everyday life. For example, for very young children, tending to a plant every day is excellent preparation for owning a pet in a few years time. They will understand the importance of meeting the needs of another living organism, and the responsibility that comes with it.
The challenge is getting them to take their first few steps into this world. Once they’re in, converting them to the joys of gardening becomes a lot easier. But how do we get them to take those first few steps?
Get Them Their Own Supplies
Gardening isn’t the most hazardous activity in the world, but the tools we use can present a hazard in the hands of children. Admittedly I did give Little Miss some of my tools (or rather she upped and ran with them when I wasn’t looking and claimed them as her own!) Plants need digging and cutting, and just like you would want to always supervise your children when using scissors, you similarly need to ensure they are using trowels and shears safely.
Fortunately, I was wise and bought the children’s versions of the same gardening tools in Home Store and More which usually have them on sale at some point throughout the year.
Kids learn much better if they are able to do much of the work themselves, under your guidance, of course. Having your children work with their own tools will also ensure they are actively engaging with the gardening, not simply observing you. Taking ownership is a big deal.
Give Them Their Own Plot
Speaking of taking ownership, as well as providing them with their own tools to garden with, you will also want to give them their own space in your garden to express themselves and cultivate the plants and flowers that most appeal to them. You should mark this area off clearly in some way. This will both make it clear to your kids which area is for them and also encourage them to think about how to effectively use the space they have.
A great way of doing this is to put up a garden trellis as a divider. If you don’t already own a garden trellis, FenceStore’s garden trellis panels look great, and the trellis panels themselves can be used to grow climbing plants.
Let Them Choose What to Grow
Once your kids have the tools they need to garden, you then need to help them to see the full range of plants they can potentially grow. Some flowers will be too difficult for your children to grow alone, but you should still encourage them by assisting them as much as you can. They could even starting with some kitchen herbs which are hardy plants and easy to grow.
You could make them aware of properties that they might want to look for in the plants they grow. For example, different plants can attract different insects, and don’t forget some plants are edible! Help them to understand all the different things that gardening can achieve.
Get Creative With Your Arrangements
It might seem natural to plant all of your plants in neat, clearly delineated rows. This neat and rigid approach is intuitive to adults, but children’s minds don’t work like ours. Children are more interested in planting things where they want them to go, rather than where they think they should go. Channel your inner Mr Bloom! You should encourage this kind of creative thinking. Remember, the goal here is to get your kids to engage with the gardening. Allowing their creativity to flow will help them to engage.
DIY Plant Boxes
Anyone can go out and buy boxes and baskets to grow plants in. These often look very effective, but they also tend to look very…ordinary. Children aren’t generally big fans of the ordinary, so take this as another opportunity to get them thinking creatively. A much more fun way of approaching this is to improvise and turn everyday items into plant boxes. We have used old tires as planters and we plan on painting them some bright colours to accent the garden.
Once your kids get their first few successful grows under their belt, they won’t want to stop! Learning to tend the garden will teach your children a number of useful skills and concepts.
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