Gardening With Children
Gardening with children is not just fun, but can be extremely useful educationally.
Gardening helps children to understand about life cycles, seasons, and the importance of nature. Growing your own vegetables is a very good way to help children understand where food comes from.
But what can you do in the garden with children, and how involved can they be? This page describes some activities that will be useful with children aged anything from about two to ten, and perhaps beyond.
Clothes For Gardening
Whatever age your children, gardening should result in dirty, mud-stained clothes. It is important that they can get really involved, with dirty hands and clothes, without having to worry about the dirt.
If you (and they) are going to spend any time gardening, it may therefore be worth investing in some gardening clothes and wellies. You can, of course, reserve a particular pair of old jeans and a fleece, but ‘work’ trousers or dungarees will be more hard-wearing, especially at the knee.
You may even be able to hand them down to another child later.
Gardening With Toddlers
Gardening with toddlers is quite a challenge. Their unbounded enthusiasm, and inability to distinguish treasured plants from weeds, can be a potent combination.
The key is preparation.
You need to think ahead about what you are going to do, and what they can do to help, and be prepared with some diversionary activities.
Suitable gardening activities include:
Emptying out and washing old flower pots and tubs.
Children can help you to take out all the old plants, and the compost, and then wash the pots and refill them with compost and any slow-release feed. You might, however, want to do the planting yourself.
Planting bulbs in pots or straight into the garden.
Bulbs are very resilient. Provided that they are fully covered with soil they will even reorient themselves, so planting bulbs is an ideal activity for small children. If you are planting in the garden, they may need help to dig big enough holes. Bulbs planted in pots also make ideal Christmas presents for teachers and nursery staff.
Digging, especially holes
Most children really like digging holes, though not necessarily exactly where you want them. If you need a diversion, give your child a patch of clear earth and encourage them to dig.
This may be a controversial choice but, provided that you are not over-bothered about exactly where the seeds go, toddlers can certainly help. You will need to pick the seeds quite carefully though: big seeds like beans and sweetcorn are great because little fingers can easily pick out one and put it in a hole. Small seeds that need to be broadcast widely, like wildflower seeds, or poppies, are also good. It is probably best to avoid sowing seeds that need to be carefully spaced, or that are very fiddly.
You may not like this as much, but children can be very enthusiastic waterers, especially with a hose. You will need a high tolerance of wet children, but it will keep them very busy.
One activity that is particularly not recommended with toddlers is weeding.
You won’t be able to weed and watch what they’re doing, and you will end up having prized plants pulled up as ‘a really big weed’!
Another outdoor activity which can work as a diversion is ‘painting’. Give your toddler a bucket of water and an old paintbrush, and ask them to paint the fence/gate/garage/a plank of wood.
They will be happily engaged for hours, especially if you praise them every few minutes and say how well they are doing, and suggest new places to paint once they have ‘finished’.
Gardening With Older Children
As children get older, they can do more in the garden, but you will still need to supervise and encourage.
From the ages of about four or five, children should be able to handle small plants, and will enjoy sowing a wider variety of seeds, planting bulbs, and planting more generally. They will also enjoy picking fruit and vegetables, and then sitting down and eating them straight away.
You will also be able to get them involved with planning planting, for example, in tubs and pots, including choosing plants and deciding on the layout. Counting the number of plants needed will be great for their numeracy skills.
Older children, over the age of about five or six, may also like a patch of garden, or a pot, that is ‘theirs’. You may need to help them to plan and plant it, but they should be in charge, and should be able to say what they want to do with it. Encourage them to keep it looking nice, or to pick any fruit or vegetables from it, but don’t get cross if they neglect it.
One area of gardening which is particularly good for small children is wildlife gardening, or making your garden a good place for wildlife.
Projects for wildlife can either be done indoors, on a rainy day, or outside under relatively relaxed supervision while you are getting on with the weeding or other jobs.
Top Tips: Wildlife Gardening Projects
Soup or fruit jars, or Tetra-Pak containers are perfect for making bug houses as they tend to be almost square, so fit together well. Tape or glue four together in a square, with the mouths all facing the same way. Gather together suitable filling: drinking straws, cut to the length of the jars, will provide good insect homes, as will dry leaves, straw, twigs, and shredded paper. Be creative, and think about what bugs seem to like. Keep each jar different, and with only one filling, to provide several different habitats.
Suitable places for your bug house are out of the way, and not over-frequented. You can cover the top and sides with soil, if you like, to make it dark and appealing to insects, and also to hide the labels on the cartons.
Alternatively, cut the top and bottom off an old plastic bottle. Fill it with lengths of bamboo cane, cut to the length of the bottle, filling in any gaps with drinking straws. Tie string round it, and hang it from a tree or piece of trellis. You can even decorate it with stickers, if you like.
Roosting pocket for birds
These are small closed-top round baskets with holes at front and back, which hang from a wire. You can make one from an old milk carton, by painting it with non-water soluble paint. Cut small holes in opposite sides of the carton, about the same size as you will find in a nestbox, and pierce some smaller holes in the bottom for drainage. Inside the ‘pocket’, place some wool, shredded paper, dry leaves or similar and replace the lid. Use wire to hang it in a suitable bush.
A ‘frogitat’ usually looks like a ceramic box with a roof and door, and sometimes half a floor, but you can use an upturned flower pot to make your own. Either cut a small hole as a door, or prop it up on some old crocks to make sure that there is room for frogs to get inside. Place it somewhere damp, at the back of a flower bed, and leave it alone.
Encourage your children to leave the wildlife homes alone, especially frog and bird houses, as regular checking will disturb the animals.
You can, however, encourage them to check for footprints in damp earth nearby, as this should keep them busy without disturbing anything else.
A Skill For Life
As with cooking with children, gardening with children takes longer than doing it by yourself.
However it can be great fun to share something that you enjoy with your children, and see them learning to handle plants and have fun growing things, or even just spending time outdoors, both of which are likely to stand them in good stead for life.