Gardening with kids

The Woolworths Discovery Garden current “Giveaway” has created a renewed interest in growing plants for children. We have certainly gathered a few and have had a very good germination rate with the seeds. The pots are quite small and need to be planted out fairly quickly and in my opinion, some of the seeds such as carrots and radish aren’t particularly suitable for transplanting. For some of the seeds we have not used the pots but instead planted directly into large containers. The pots can be composted or saved for future use. I love that there is something that gets kids excited about being outside away from screens and spring is such a fabulous time to be doing this.  Anything that is going to get kids interested in gardening is wonderful and they have to be better than little bits of plastic that end up in landfill. Let us know what you think about them.

Gardening with children can be a challenge as well as being fun and rewarding. Over the past two years, I have been volunteering in a primary school garden, we call it ‘garden gang. I have had to modify my expectations somewhat as the garden belongs to the children and not me. The kids often want to bury seeds way too deeply or stomp the soil down so hard that nothing would ever be able to break through the compacted crust, I bite my tongue and let them learn through their mistakes. We have plants popping up all over the place and the joy the kids get from watching them grow and then harvesting them is fabulous. I think at times I am not overly popular with the other parents as their children eat all sorts of vegetables that they will not try at home. I have also been told that they have commented to their parents about the way their vegetables are prepared at home.  If they have grown them, they tend to be much more adventurous with tasting.

We have a day each term where I cook up some produce and the gang get to try it, numbers are always about double on food day. This term was pumpkin themed as we needed to use up some of our massive haul from last summer. We had pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins and pumpkin chocolate cake. In the summer term we had Zucchini slice, muffins and chocolate cake -I am seeing a pattern here and may need to try something else next term. The last couple of weeks have seen kids crunching on radishes straight from the garden after a splash under the tap and lettuce leaves. When we planted garlic for the first time many of the kids told everyone we were planting garlic bread so of course after harvest we had garlic bread. Over the last few weeks the gang has spent time picking, washing and munching on radishes and lettuce leaves.

Apart from developing their taste buds the kids are learning about sustainability. We are lucky enough to have chooks and food scraps go into buckets that are fed to the chooks and we use their pooh (the chooks not the kids) to make pooh tea for the garden. The boys in particular love our bin of pooh tea -stinky smells and little boys! We have a worm farm and a compost bin that the kids raised the money for. They are very enthusiastic about what comes out of the bins. Finding bugs in the garden is also a very popular activity and we often have discussions about good bugs and bad bugs in relation to our vegetable growing.

I have a seven-year-old son – yes, I know I don’t look anywhere near the age to be the mother of a seven-year-old but there you go. My little man spent his first 22 months inside, isolated from other children (there were good reasons for this). When he came to us, he had never walked on grass, picked a flower or seen the moon. We needed to do a lot of therapy and the garden was the perfect place for that to occur. We worked on fine motor skills with digging, transplanting seedlings and sowing seeds Gross motor skills were developed through water play and moving around on different surfaces. We went berry picking just days after his arrival and I will never forget the joy (and lots of berry juice) on his face when he sat beside a blueberry bush and ate blueberries, some green ones made their way in too but he didn’t seem to mind. Language skills were developed through talking about plants and insects and naming them all.

I now have a child who loves being outside in the garden. He has 2 fairy gardens (one is guarded by a toy gorilla!) and spends hours rearranging them. He has built lizard habitat areas and inspects out insect habitat area regularly to see what lives there. He can’t wait to see his first blue-banded bee when they arrive in summer. On the first day of preschool they found some curl bugs in the garden and he proudly announced to his peers that they were Paddock Cockchafers -yes, I am that mum.

Take your kids or grandkids out into the garden every chance you get and allow them the freedom to discover the environment for themselves. Yes, they will get dirty and yes, they will get wet, but they will also make up fabulous games and ask you lots and lots of questions and no because I said so won’t cut it as your answer. The learning that occurs in a garden is amazing.

Going on a snail hunt at dusk after rain and then feeding those snails to the chooks is heaps of fun and a completely non-toxic way to rid your garden of snails! You can weave your own fairy house out of willow or suitable vines -passionfruit, grapevine and Banksia Rose all work very well, they will brown off as they dry and have a completely different look. Paint stones and write plant names on them for garden markers. Construct garden structures from bamboo. Use old pallets to build a child size potting bench. Have some fun in the garden this spring!