The garden is a wonderful place for kids to connect with nature. Gardening provides opportunities to learn, explore, stimulate senses and experience many of life’s lessons. But how do you coax kids to get outdoors and dirty?
The key to developing an interest is firstly to let children explore nature without too many boundaries – obviously considering safety at all times – allowing them to explore, touch, feel, smell, hear and even taste the delights found throughout the garden. Find wonderful things that stimulate your child’s senses and have fun doing it, and you’ll create memories and an interest that will stay with them for years to come.
Try not to overwhelm children with too many rules or things for them to do. Start with small, simple and fun activities that create interest without being a chore. This could be picking pretty flowers, making mud pies, or picking food and eating it in the garden. Also ensure that there are positive outcomes in everything you do. Don’t set your kids up for failure or they are likely to not try it again.
Don’t freak out if they get dirty. Everything can be washed off and the experience is so much better when kids get their hands and feet in the dirt or on the grass (and they’ll actually build up their immune system by connecting with the earth). Always wash hands when you are finished. This sets up good hygiene habits with kids.
When planting into your garden try methods of sowing seeds into small pots or directly into the ground, and also planting seedlings. This give your kids something to watch sprout from seed, but also gives them instant results when planting seedlings. Flowers, herbs and veggies can be grown in your garden from seeds and seedlings, so start to grow by both methods.
Pick suitable weather to spend time outdoors. In the heat of summer, the late afternoon either just before or after dinner is a nice time for a garden wander. Overcast days are lovely in the garden, as are the cooler days to enjoy warm sunshine.
Keep in mind that kids have a short attention span, so give them up to 15 minutes doing an activity (depending on age) and when they start to wander off to something else let them go. They’ll usually find something else in the garden that grabs their attention – butterflies and other bugs usually do this!
If you’re planting seedlings or small plants during the warm months it’s best to do this late afternoon. In cooler months, the morning is fine for planting. Overcast or light rainy days are also good for planting.
Try sprouts or micro-greens for quick crops. Both methods can be grown indoors, or outside in morning sunshine for micro-greens. You eat the very small leaves once they have sprouted. As they’re packed with nutrients and flavour, you can add a small amount to lunches, salads and as a garnish on meals. Kids love to sprinkle little leaves around!
For older children, try setting up a compost or worm system in the garden. This shows kids how to reduce waste, reuse food scraps to make healthy dirt and also simple ways for recycling. Growing a garden is also about learning to care for our world, and composting and worm systems are an easy way to get kids to consider ways to reduce our impact on the world.
Have a few gardening tools ready for them to use. Find lightweight tools for smaller children and regular tools for teenagers. Safety is super important when gardening with kids so always wear gloves, hats and enclosed shoes.
Try growing in creative containers – recycle old items to grow plants in such as old boots, buckets, wheelbarrows and bathtubs. Also recycle old toys like tip trucks, diggers or tubs and grow something bright in these – they’re perfect for succulents.
If you’re growing food, make a list of five foods your family loves. I grow foods that I know my boys will pick and eat fresh or to put into lunchboxes. These are beans, strawberries, passionfruit, celery and blueberries. These are all easy to grow foods that most kids enjoy.
Think more about the experience and worry less about the outcome. As the old saying goes, ‘It’s all about the journey, not the destination’. This is so relevant when gardening with children. The gardening activity is of most benefit when the experience is enjoyed, not when worrying about the end result. You can always go back afterwards and fix things if needed.
Cath Manuel is an organic gardening expert, lifestyle mentor, horticulturist and educator based on the Sunshine Coast. She has many years’ experience in the gardening industry and has a great passion for growing fresh, organic food and living a sustainable lifestyle. Find more information on Cath’s programs and services at www.soiltosupper.com and www.facebook.com/SoiltoSupper