Sick of spending time inside? For an excuse to get outdoors, Becky Dickinson explains how to get your children interested in gardening
With many of us now practising social distancing or self-isolating, it seems a shame to let the bright spring weather go to waste while we’re all sat indoors. If you have access to a private outside space, gardening with your children comes with many benefits – from embracing nature to aiding our physical and mental health – and guarantees plenty of fresh air, too.
It also provides a wonderful learning environment in which children can do something productive while having fun and getting their hands dirty. What’s more, it sows the seeds for a healthy hobby for life.
Yet according to the Natural Childhood report, published by the RSPB, only one in five children have a ‘connection to nature’ and time spent playing outdoors has halved in just one generation.
This has worrying implications not just for physical and mental health, but also for the environment. We need to raise a generation of children who care enough about plants and wildlife to want to nurture the planet as they grow up.
In London and across the UK we are spoilt for green spaces and local parks. However, one of the best places to help children connect with nature is in your own back garden – or even a balcony, or windowsill if you don’t have a garden.
Here are three ways you can get children interested in gardening, while making a positive impact on the environment…
Grow your own fruit and vegetables
Growing a few easy fruit and vegetable crops is a great way to help children understand where their food comes from, while hopefully nudging them towards their five or ten a day. Carrots and tomatoes take on a whole new appeal when children have witnessed their journey to fruition!
It’s best to start small and choose fruits and vegetables that are relatively low maintenance and fast growing so that your little helpers don’t lose interest. Peas, beans, beetroot, radishes and courgettes are all ideal crops to grow with children.
If you don’t have the time or space for a whole vegetable patch, don’t fret. Raised beds and planting tables make a great half-way option, while many plants, like strawberries and tomatoes, do brilliantly in containers or hanging baskets, with the added advantage of being further away from slugs. Lots of plants, like herbs and salad leaves, can also be grown in pots on a window sill.
As a general rule, most seeds can be sown in April (although check the packet first), then it’s really just a case of watch and water. Regardless of age, there’s a simple, yet magical pleasure in witnessing a handful of tiny, dry seeds transform into something bountiful and delicious.
Grow flowers and plants
Whether in pots or borders, flowers can lift the most listless of gardens into a blooming haven, providing colour, perfume and an endless source of fascination.
Don’t attempt anything too ambitious to start with. Marigolds, nasturtiums, sweet peas and cosmos are all fun and straightforward to grow with children.
Although for wow factor, it’s hard to beat sunflowers, including unusual varieties such as Ruby Sunset and Teddy Bear. It’s best to sow seeds in pots of compost inside first, then replant in larger pots when they’re bigger.
As well as bright, showy blooms, it’s worth creating a wildflower area too. Simply scatter a packet of mixed wildflower seeds over a patch of earth and watch it develop into a buzzing oasis.
With insects disappearing at an alarming rate and a third of species around the world now endangered, growing native flowers provides an important lifeline for the future of the natural world and an opportunity to talk to children about the importance of pollinating insects.
Add bug hotels or mini beast habitats
Attracting mini-beasts, and a few larger ones too, into your garden is another great way to help children engage with the natural world. From starting a wormery to feeding the birds (as long as you don’t have a cat!) to building a bug hotel or a hedgehog home, there are all sorts of ways to increase biodiversity right where you live.
For slightly older children who aren’t likely to fall in, you could even create a pond to attract frogs and toads whose habitats are in decline.
Besides appealing to your little naturalist’s sense of curiosity, caring for wildlife encourages children to respect their surroundings and gives them a sense of empowerment, knowing they can help make a difference.
Why not consign an area of your garden over to nature? Instead of trimming hedges and mowing lawns, just let it grow wild. As well as saving yourself a job, this can help provide shelter for a host of creatures – as well as hours of fun and investigation for your own little creatures.
At the end of the day, it’s their world, and engaging children with gardening and nature from an early age ensures a brighter future for themselves and the environment.
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