by Monika Meulman
I love gardening. I love plants and everything outdoors for that matter.
As a parent, I see first hand that kids love the great outdoors and gardening too. They may not wish to sit there and weed with you but they do love to get their hands dirty, don’t they?
Over the years, I have led countless school groups through the parks, the school gardens on discovery journeys, and as an avid gardener I spend much time in many gardens.
So here is my list of the top 5 gardening activities that will make gardening fun for the whole family!
1. Scavenger Hunt
Select a few key invasive species and debris in your garden that you wish to eliminate. My common invaders are: pine cones (100s of them) and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata – highly invasive).
Find a good picture from a garden book or print one out from the internet, present the offending intruders to the kids and show them how to gather or pull out the ‘invaders”. Set a time limit, with a prize at the end and let them go. Sometimes the kids get distracted and end up discovering something new. This is a bonus!
2. Water Challenge
Make a list of the high, low, and medium water needs in your garden. For smaller kids, you may talk about containers versus plants in the garden. For older kids you can discuss clay versus sand soils.
I have every type of condition in the garden, which makes it quite educational. Next, ask the kids to design water markers (large popsicle sticks) that will go near selected plant groups.
Each stick can say: soil type (sandy, clay, container), water need (high, low, medium), water frequency needed ( e.g. 2x week), and maybe event plant name or a drawing. Once the sticks are done, have the kids place them in the garden and award points for correct placement – if your family is as competitive as mine!
Plants are wonderful and very rewarding. Having your plants overgrown with weeds is not so fabulous. The best way to avoid weeds is to mulch. Mulch heavily. Every spring we get several bags of mulch at the garden centre, open them up and create one big pile. The kids can help mulch around plant shoots.
Make sure to do this activity AFTER #1 (so the weeds are gone) and spread mulch at least 1-2” in depth. This activity is super fun when we get a yard or 2 of mulch delivered on to your front lawn. Then we get to use wheelbarrows too! (Garden math: 1 yard of soil, or any bulk material is 1 cubic yard and will cover a 12′ x 12′ area, 3 – 4″ deep).
4. Growing Love
Kids love to watch things grow. I do too! However, kids don’t have as much patience as I do (most of the time). When you mention gardening they run out the door excited to see something happen, anything. After much digging and prodding. Not much else happens, unless they find some worms. To avoid this disappointment you can do 1 of 2 things.
First, start a compost pile, so they find worms everytime! Many compost bins are on the market, but you can even just start a pile of kitchen and garden scraps. Select an out of sight area that is 3 by 3 feet and let the organics collect.
We ‘collect’ our dinner leftovers and garden weeds behind the shed. A compost needs: Greens (grass, vegetables, weeds, etc.), Browns (cardboard, newspapers, recycled ‘art’ projects, dried leaves) and water. To keep your compost heap growing love (worms) layer the Green & Browns on a 2:3 ratio. For example, 2 inches of grass and kitchen scraps and then 3 inches of recycled news. And, water thoroughly! Once your compost is started, the kids can search for worms and watch mother nature recycling before their eyes.
The second way to grow love is to grow a few speedy plants. Super speedy growers are: alfalfa, sunflowers, watermelon, lettuce, allysum, and beans. Have the kids plant a couple plants that they can check on everyday.
5. Seeds of change
It is very satisfying to dig a hole. Kids take this as a very serious, fun task. In my garden there are always changes. Some plants need to move to a sunnier spot. Some spreaders need a trimming and dividing. Walk through the garden with the kids and point out who needs ‘first aid’.
The first aid usually involves digging up a perennial plant (one that keeps coming back) and then finding a new home for it, or separating it into 2 parts. Kids love to dig these holes. My daughter also makes sure to label the ‘mom’ and ‘kids’ when separating a plant into many pieces.
Also, many plants make seeds for next season, some of which are still on in the spring. Through the spring, summer, and fall you can go on a seed hunt with your kids and teach them how to harvest seeds, to share or store for next season.
When kids get involved in gardening, they tend to boast to their friends about their new-found garden know-how. I have seen this in the playground. It’s wonderful to see them proud of their work and take ownership of their land.
Monika Meulman is a certified aromatherapist and healer and has worked in complementary health for over 15 years. At Healing Muse, she does aromatherapy massage, foot treatments, body readings, intuitive healing treatments and reiki sessions. Monika is also the president of The Canadian Federation of Aromatherapists (cfacanada.com) and Founder of the Lakeshore Environmental Gardening Society. Follow her on Twitter.