Ronnie's Awesome List presents a guest article by Kier Holmes, Bay Area landscaper, garden writer and garden educator.
Summer is here, which means it’s the perfect time to plant the love of gardens and nature in children. And bonus: when kids connect with nature there is so much learning that is going on beneath the surface like math, science and art. Here are my top 10 simple and creative ideas to get your kids unplugged, outside gardening and connected to nature.
Lead By Example
The best way to get kids outside is leading by example, going with them and bringing your enthusiasm and child-like curiosity. If you show interest in nature then they will most likely follow. Ideas: Take a trip to your local nursery, visit a botanical garden, together stop and smell the roses.
Give Them The Tools
A large part of the fun is having the right garden tools and in their own size. How about a watering can, a set of hand tools, and some brightly colored garden gloves? A kid-sized wheelbarrow is great fun for just moving “stuff”. Together you can also create an ‘Explorers Kit’ with a magnifying glass and journal for pasting photos, drawing pictures and writing observations. Consider including a flashlight for night hunting.
Turn Over a New Leaf
Allow your kids to explore all the safe nooks and crannies of your yard. Teach them about the endless fun of bug hunting, how you never know what creature might be discovered if you turn over a rock or dig through a leaf pile. Take it a step further by creating a scavenger hunt for them and have the kids find different objects in the yard, like a snail shell, a fuzzy leaf, and a fragrant flower.
Kids are sensory loaded and learn better by touching, smelling, tasting and hearing. That means together sample veggies from the garden, make mint lemonade, sit and listen to the birds. A lovely way to document all these discoveries is to create a nature journal where things such as recipes, photos, drawings, and leaf samples can be taped or glued in.
A Spot Of Their Own
Let kids have a place in the garden where they can create whatever they like, be it a fairy garden, goblin fort, or just a place for digging in the dirt. A 3’ x 3’ area or raised bed is perfect to start. But it doesn’t have to be in a traditional rectangle. You can use any large container that has drainage.
If you are going to plant edibles, make sure the area gets enough sun. The sense of ownership is rewarding for them, plus the fact that they can let their imagination take off.
While it’s good to involve kids in choosing the plants, make sure their choices will be as trouble and bummer-free as possible. Choose seeds that are big and easy to handle, pick a few plants that will produce quick results, and choose some that are tasty right out of the garden.
Some good plant choices are:
- Lettuce –romaine especially
- Peas and beans
- Kale for making kale chips
- Sweet peas, nasturtium, alyssum, pansies, marigolds
- Mint – plant in a pot or it will get away
You can also make a theme garden bed like a pizza bed with tomatoes, onion, basil, and oregano. A soup bed with tomatoes, zucchini, chard, onions, garlic. A Peter Rabbit bed with lettuces, radishes, beets, cucumbers, cabbage and marigolds.
Word of caution: never mix non-edible flowers with veggies and fruits. Some flowers are toxic and you wouldn’t want them mixed with food that your kids will eat.
Munch, Cook And Eat
When it’s time to harvest, make it a family affair. Let the kids pick the veggies or fruit, help wash them and even talk about how they will prepare them. Just be ready to eat strawberry and lettuce pasta for dinner.
Recycle, repurpose and remake things that can serve as decoration or tools for the garden. Ideas: Paint rocks found at the beach to serve as plant markers, make a bird feeder from a recycled milk jug, create dangling decorations with a sturdy branch, shells and beads. Also, some plants like lavender make wonderfully scented sachets.
Through The Seasons
Even after summer is a fading memory and it’s cold and wintry out, bring the garden indoors with some nature activities. Good choices include a windowsill planter, a terrarium built in an old fish bowl or tank, or force bulbs in a glass bottle.
Really, truly, please avoid using pesticides or other toxic chemicals if nasty bugs or weeds make an unwelcomed appearance. Teach kids about natural practices like using herbs to keep bad bugs at bay. Idea: Release aphid-loving ladybugs in the garden at dusk or dawn when they are more likely to stay around.
Fun in the Sun
Bottom line: try to make e a child’s experience in the garden full of wonder and discovery. Let them get lost in the simple pleasure of digging in the dirt--for hours if wanted. There is nothing more rewarding to a child than pure, unstructured play outdoors. And by granting them this, you are hopefully setting them up for a lifetime of cherishing and respecting the natural world.
Kier Holmes is a local landscaper who has been designing, consulting and maintaining gardens in Marin for close to 20 years. Kier is teaching a kid’s Garden Club at the Mill Valley Library this summer: Advanced registration is required. When not designing gardens or looking for worms with kids, Kier is also a contributing writer for Marin Magazine, Sunset Magazine and Gardenista. You can connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org