Most kids love to get dirty and explore their environment. And many parents encourage this behaviour, in the hopes that their children will connect with nature and learn about the world around them, including where their food comes from. As more people move towards local and sustainable lifestyles, gardening is becoming a regular activity for the whole family.
“My children are all grown now,” says Karen Achenbach, Horticultural Manager at the Historic Gardens in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, “but I found that gardening was an excellent way to have them learn and experience the interactions between many forms of life and the earth. You’ve got it all… plants, animals, soil, water and the atmosphere working together in a productive and mostly satisfactory way.”
The Historic Gardens hosts special workshops and events for kids, but young ones can get involved at home with these simple tips:
– Choose the right seeds. Select plants that have large seeds that are easy to handle for young children. Peas, beans and nasturtiums are good choices. “I find also that seeds such as radish or cress that germinate really quickly give a more immediate sense of accomplishment,” says Achenbach. “Although I think it is important for children to learn patience, it’s nice to not have to wait too long!” Try unusual varieties like purple carrots and orange cauliflower. Flowers with animal names are fun – snapdragons, turtlehead – and, she says, “there’s nothing like sunflowers that grow fast and huge to delight a child.”
– Mix in some transplants as well, for an instant garden. “It’s not quite the ‘magic’ of seeds, but it gives another opportunity for kids to get their hands dirty and learn about things like how plants grow,” she suggests. With transplants, children can see a plants roots, giving them an opportunity to understand what happens after the seed begins to grow.
– Make gardening fun. “Even weeding can be an adventure if you go about it the right way,” Achenbach says, though she admits that her own kids might disagree. She suggests keeping to a time limit and not trying to accomplish a lot when it’s too hot. “Let them water plants,” she advises. “Kids love watering cans and hoses.” Try planting into unusual containers such as old rubber boots or blown-out soccer balls.
– Give kids a space of their own. “Giving children their own little space is helpful in many ways. They can develop a sense of ownership and it helps those of us who expect a more structured garden to appreciate crooked rows,” Achenbach says. “Always be on the lookout for the creatures of the garden. Bugs can be fascinating and it provides a great opportunity to talk about pests and beneficials, pollinators and butterflies. Developing a garden area specifically for butterflies and pollinators is also a way to keep children interested.
– Get out into the community. Achenbach suggests visiting other gardens, such as a neighbour’s or a public garden, to develop children’s appreciation for gardening. “I very much enjoy hearing some of our visiting children proudly pointing out plants they are familiar with when they are visiting our Gardens,” she says.