Get Those Kids in the Garden!
School will soon be out and kids will be full of glee, excited for the plethora of adventures that summer will surely bring… and then, by week two, they’ll be looking for things to do. Bring on the garden!
Gardening is an art, a science and a life skill that is exceptionally rewarding on so many levels, so it’s an ideal summer activity for children of all ages to be a part of. There are a number of scientific reports on how beneficial being in nature is, but gardeners know from experience that it just feels good. While we could simply offer a list of fun projects to do with your Littles this summer (okay, we will in a bit—we couldn’t resist), our focus here is more on garden engagement with kids.
Kids & the Garden: First Steps
Your yard is part of your living space, so why not get the whole family involved? Instead of asking them to play so that you can get the gardening done, invite them to participate! Yes, it could take longer (a lot longer), but there’s always something they can help with. Here are a few tips and tricks for getting (and keeping) them involved:
Whatever the task you’ve assigned them may be, remember to take regular breaks (certainly more often for wee ones). The fastest way to quash a child’s enthusiasm for gardening is to get them to weed, and only weed, for long stretches of time. If that’s their first introduction to being in the garden, they’ll likely learn that gardening is only a clean-up chore (and not a fun one) and they won’t want to spend much time there even if you’re planning to do fun activities later.
Set small goals to start, break often for a game, a snack or a different activity, and be sure to admire the work they’ve done as you go. A great thing about gardening is that you can see the results of your efforts over both the short and long terms. Help children to see this and they’ll appreciate the work they’ve done! Kid-sized and colourful tools will make tasks more enjoyable for little ones too.
Give Them Space
While everyone in the family can help with watering, weeding and seeding, consider giving your little ones some space to call their own. This could be their own corner of the garden, a container, or even just a hanging basket, but make sure they know it’s theirs. They’ll take great pride in their own plot of land and learn a lot about growing things in the process.
There’s still time to plant for summer (and fall!), and large pots are excellent kid-sized gardens that they can manage. Teach them about the different plants for sun or shade, help them with the responsibilities of caring for plants (watering, deadheading, etc.), but let them do the work. They’ll learn as much from their successes as their failures, as we all do! While you may not have the picture-perfect, Insta-worthy garden in the process, letting your kids choose the plants and seeds to be included will make them feel super special (and if they plant veggies, they might be more inclined to eat them). No matter what it looks like, let them choose their plants all on their own.
Engage With Education
Young children are fairly eager to jump into gardening but older kids may take some convincing. The scientific side of things is a great way to get their attention! Gardens for pollinators, hotels for bugs, crazy plants (carnivorous, ancient plants, unique food producers etc.), propagation processes and gathering seeds are all ways that they can expand their knowledge of plant cycles and the role plants play in our environments—backyard ecosystems if you will!
Making use of the natural elements in the garden can be interesting too. Wind chimes and rain chains can be lots of fun to make and have very enjoyable results!
Once they’ve outgrown the thrill of watching a plant grow from seed or bees buzzing through the garden, teens may become more interested in the tools of the trade. Lawn mowing is helpful, but teaching them how to prune (safety first!) may avoid potential eye-rolling when you ask them to help maintain your green space. Broadleaved evergreens can be trimmed year round, flowering shrubs can be pruned when they finish blooming and several other shrubs can be clipped cosmetically over the summer, so let them give it a try. You may lose a few unintended limbs (on the plant, not the body… refer to the ‘safety first’ item), but so be it. They’ll grow back!
Cutting stems to make floral bouquets is another great way to get the creative juices flowing for older kids. They can experiment with different textures and looks, test to see how long some stems last over others and make little bouquets as gifts for friends and family.
So Many Projects, So Little Time!
There are lots of great ideas on the internet about different projects to try, from planting a pizza garden to growing a sunflower maze. Plan a few minutes as a family to search for some inspiration and come up with a summertime bucket list of things to do. Here are a few of our favourites:
- Check out local garage sales for cool containers. Turn an old set of dressers into a tiered garden (just remember the drainage holes!). Transform an old picture frame into a cool air-plant frame. Plant a colander herb garden and hang it, or make a shabby-chic wind chime. Be creative!
- Plant a theme garden. Do they love fairies? Candy? Dinosaurs? Shakespeare? Do some homework to find plants that fit the theme and you’re set. The wilder the theme, the more fun it is to find things to grow to match it!
- Plant a pollinator garden. Naturally attracting wildlife to your garden is not only interesting, but it also helps them out too! There are many plants that attract bees, hummingbirds and/or butterflies, and it’s a wonder to watch them work. You can always take it one step further and put up a bat house too.
- Build a bug hotel. Attract some creepy crawlies to your yard! Yes, you might get a few trouble makers, but watching different species interact is really interesting.
- Add some art. Get crafty by painting rocks, pots and decorative garden markers, building birdhouses, or making stepping stones. There are so many crafts that add colour and interest to the garden. Try to use natural materials where you can.
- Create a shady book nook in the garden. Create a sheltered spot with tall shrubs, hedging or vines, add a few fragrant plants and some outdoor pillows, and the kids will be set for a cool afternoon curled up with a great book!
- Game time. Bean bag toss, ring toss, croquet… all of these are simple yet super fun games to play in the garden. You’ve put lots of effort into your garden – it’s important that you enjoy it!
We’re no psychologists, but it’s probably pretty safe to say that when children engage in an activity that benefits themselves, their family, local wildlife and the environment, they’ll take pride in what they’ve done and gain the confidence to do more in the future. So give them a bit of space and let them dig in this summer!