This week is National Allotments Week. I’m very much an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to gardening, but over the years we’ve grown a few things with relative success! I love spending time outside with my kids and gardening with children is great therapy for all the family. The kids really benefit from just being outside for a while, and gardening is such a calming activity. I also think the process of growing something is really beneficial: there’s so much to learn about the process of growing as well as the skills of nurturing something and learning to be patient as it grows.
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Wear old clothes (or none at all)
Gardening with children can be a messy business! It is safe to say that my children have never come inside, having been in the garden, wearing clothes that were fit for anything other than the laundry pile! So if you’re heading out in to the garden, dress appropriately. In winter we tend to aim for head-to-toe waterproofs. Once it’s drier, we’ll just wear clothes that have had at least one wear already – they’ll be getting changed as soon as we come inside! Or if it’s really warm, they are usually happiest stripping right off – less washing for me!
Give them their own tools
As well as meaning you are able to work alongside each other, providing children with tools made for little hands is safer. They also are easier for children to use and give them a sense of pride as they feel so grown up! You can usually pick some up fairly cheaply from the supermarket in Spring and Summer, but something like this would work well:
With whatever jobs you are doing, it’s good just to think ahead and plan it from a child’s perspective. For example, if you’re planting seeds, consider tipping just a few out into a bowl or an egg cup, rather than asking them to pour from the packet. Otherwise, you may end up with rather more seeds in the pot that you were aiming for! This also allows them to observe the seeds properly before they’re planted. For other jobs, such as transferring compost into pots, it might be helpful to put a tray underneath, so that the inevitable spilled soil can be recovered easily!
Allow them their own space
Children love having their own space to garden. This could be a little patch of their own, or it might just be spare pot. Depending on their age, you need to cinder what would work well for them. For my two year old, he just needs somewhere he can dig without accidentally digging up bulbs or destroying seedlings! My five year old, on the other hand, would be very happy to plant her own bulbs or seeds. Taking them to buy their own seeds is a lovely activity to do together!
Be willing to pause
There’s so much to see in the garden, so when you’re gardening with children, try not to have a long list of jobs you must get done! Children are notorious for being observant, and they’ll see lots that you might not otherwise notice. Try and take the time to stop and enjoy their discoveries, and chat about them together. You could even take out a small pot and a magnifying glass so you can take a good look at any creepy crawlies they come across.
Have a backup activity
As much as there is lots to enjoy about gardening with children, it’s safe to say that your children’s attention span might not last for the entirety of your planned gardening session! So have something else for them to be doing while you carry on – bring a few toys, make mud pies, or try one of these ideas!
Make your garden child-friendly
This may sound obvious, but it can be easy to think of gardening as an activity for adults, and I know plenty of people can be quite protective over their garden space. And on the one hand, that’s not unreasonable – I’m all for the garden being a place where the adults can relax at the end of a long day! However, if you have children, it can be helpful to bear them in mind when planning your space.
For example, you may wish to include a few nicely scented plants, such as lavender, rosemary and mint. As well as being lovely to have in the garden, it’s fun for the children to have plants with a strong smell which they can cut up and use in their play, too!
Have an accessible space where they children can get out and put away any garden toys – we have a large waterproof clip-top box so it’s easy for them to find what they need and put it away!
Finally, think about encouraging wildlife in to your garden – we have a bird feeder which a great source of enjoyment for all the family! Other options are planting pollinator-friendly plants, or creating a mini beast hotel together.
What they are learning
As I said at the start, there is SO much to learn from being in the garden, but here are some of the things children learn…
- Science: what plants need to grow; observing changes over time; types of insect; life cycles; healthy diets.
- Social and Emotional development: working together; being patient; taking care.
- Physical development: developing strength and large and small muscle movements by digging, weeding, sowing, watering.
- Communication and Language: learning subject-specific vocabulary, talking about what happens as they garden.
- Maths: lots of opportunities for counting; talking about size and weight; observing how high different plants grow; filling and emptying containers; and noticing patterns.
For more great play ideas, check out my Power of Play eBook, packed with lots of ideas for open-ended play, including a chapter on Outdoor Play!