Children are CURIOUS by nature and like to learn by DOING.
There are few things children enjoy more than digging in the dirt and making mud pies. They are fascinated by looking for worms and bugs and love to water the garden. Children also enjoy planting seeds, watching them grow and harvesting what they have grown.
By cultivating their curiosity about these things, you can help them to develop a love of nature and gardening. They will also enjoy the special time they get to spend with you.
Why kids need to garden:
It’s a fact that by simply taking kids outside and getting them involved in gardening activities, they can benefit in so many ways!
Isn’t it amazing that through sight, smell, touch, taste and sound, all of their senses can be stimulated by just a walk through a carefully planned garden!
And along with the fun of getting dirty, gardening helps children learn valuable lessons about patience as they wait for vegetables to grow, responsibility as they see how necessary their care is to the garden, and even loss when flowers die at the end of a season.
They learn about nurturing a life and what it takes to keep something alive, get valuable exercise as they physically work in the garden, and families learn to work together and share in the process of gardening.
Some great TIPS on how to involve your little one in the garden:
1. Give your child his/her OWN garden bed or area:
If you have more than one child, remember to make sure to give each child his/her own separate space. Keep it small in the beginning (especially for small children). It’s important to include the child when deciding where to put the garden – this can be a good time to talk about what is required for a successful garden. Talk about ideal soil, availability of water, enough sun. The garden should be located where it is easily accessible to the child and can be admired by others.
2. Grow a VEGGIE garden:
One of the most important things about edible gardening is understanding where food comes from. Young children are fascinated in seeing food when it’s pulled from the ground, and they notice the similarities and differences from their garden vegetables and produce from the grocery store. Encourage your child’s enthusiasm by planting seeds that mature quickly and are large enough for a child to easily handle.
3. Create a children’s SENSORY garden:
Planting for the senses is easy.
Section off the garden for each of the senses. Paint small rocks with one of each of the senses - see, feel, smell, taste, hear - and have your child use them to identify each area of the garden.
Garden space a problem? Simply plant in garden boxes or pots then.
Children love bright colours and these eye-catching flowers are sure to be popular. They also make great subjects for drawing and painting:
Sunflower; Marigold; Gazania; Petunia
Leaves vary between plants – from rough to smooth, furry to spiky. Get your child to touch these plants and describe what they feel like. You can also explain to them that every texture has a purpose. For instance, furry leaves protect the plants from extremes of hot and cold weather, succulent ones help to store water and sharp spines stop the plants from being eaten by hungry insects.
Pin cushion; Bulbine; Lamb's ear
There are so many delicious plants to eat – fruit, vegetables and herbs.
(Remember to use organic products on your edibles when controlling pests!)
Strawberries; Nasturtium (yes, this flower is edible!); Rosemary; Mint
The fragrances not only from flowers, but also from leaves, are wonderful to enjoy in the garden. The smell often have a purpose too – such as attracting insects to the flowers or deterring pests from eating leaves.
Lavender; Sweet pea (sow from February – June); Star Jasmine
Sit in your garden and encourage your children to listen to all the sounds of nature around them: the bees buzzing, the birds singing and the sound of the wind rustling the plants:
Sweet corn; Bamboo
4. Gardening in POTS / CONTAINERS:
If you don’t have much space, gardening in pots and containers can be just as much fun and productive.
(Consider economical clay pots - available at Cape Garden)
Or allow your child to use his/her imagination in choosing containers to be used as planters – just about anything that holds soil and has good drainage can be used as a pot.
5. Give them serious TOOLS:
Cheap plastic tools are worse than no tools at all: they break easily and frustrate the user.
6. CHEAT a little:
Depending on the age of the child, you may need to help out a little ‘behind the scene’. Not every garden task is pleasant, and the child may not be ready at all times for all chores. You may be the one to water a dry plant every now and then... They don’t have to know about every little help you offer – the child’s ownership of the plot is the main thing.
7. Garden CALENDER:
For the bigger child: gardening tasks will be easier to remember if you put a garden calendar in your child’s room or on the refrigerator. That way he or she can take charge of completing the tasks and crossing off the days when each task has been completed.
8. NAME the plants:
t’s important that parents teach children the names of the plants, vegetables and flowers in their garden, especially if they have a taste or smell children can identify. Kids love to learn the names of the plants, and teaching them is a good way to teach respect for even the smallest things.
9. Be a SHOW-OFF:
And lastly, but not the least, show off their work: when giving garden tours to friends, be sure to point out the children’s beds. Take a photo of their harvest and send it to grandma and grandpa. The attention given to their work is the best motivator for children to stay involved with a project.
"Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives."
- Thomas Berry
*Photos: Cape Garden