The summer holidays are here and after those first few euphoric days of freedom, life indoors can soon begin to feel cramped. Even if your offspring are pre-school age, chances are you’ve heard Peppa Pig singing, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” one too many times. If for no other reason than to escape slicing those grapes for the 715th snack of the morning, Alison Thompson says it’s time to get out into the garden…
The positive health benefits of gardening, for both children and adults alike, are well documented, not to mention the other valuable skills it can foster such as learning patience and responsibility, exploring the natural world and new scientific concepts, and encouraging healthy eating. But how can you get everyone off the sofa and out into your plot so you can start reaping all those rewards for yourself and your family? Here are six simple ideas to get you started.
- Garden Crafts: So much fun can be had by simply painting a pot. If you use outdoor paint your little one’s works of art can stay outdoors and help brighten up the garden. Flower pot people, lighthouses made with pots stacked upside down and with a solar light stuck in the top, or even cheering up old patio planters that have seen better days… these are all easily achieved in an afternoon. Colouring in the patio with outdoor chalk, or using the driveway as one giant chalk board are always popular.
- Plan a Picnic: You might be surprised how much children of all ages enjoy eating a meal in the garden. Little ones can bring their cuddly toys out too for a teddy bears’ picnic. Older children might enjoy making the meal themselves for everyone and packing it up to take outdoors. If you have a camping stove or a bbq, why not cook up some classic campsite favourites like sausages and beans or bacon and eggs? You don’t have to travel further than the bottom of the garden to enjoy an outdoor adventure. Choose a sunny day, spread out a rug and enjoy!
- Mud Kitchens and Water Play: Don’t forget that “pretend” eating can be just as much fun as the real thing. A few bricks with a plank laid along the top, some old pots, pans and plates and an old washing up bowl filled with water for “washing up” afterwards makes a great mud kitchen. It’s amazing how much fun toddlers can have by pouring water from one container to the other. Add a few drops of food colouring and some washing-up liquid for coloured bubbly fun. Raid your recycling to provide vessels of different shapes and sizes for greater variety. Large plastic flexible gardening trugs are available in all sizes and colours from discount stores and are excellent for outdoor water play. You might even find a little one sitting inside them as they make great paddling pools too!
- Give Them Their Own Patch: Whether it’s a corner of the garden, a raised bed or a large pot, children love to have a part of the garden that they can call their own. Use it to grow seeds, bulbs or annual plants. All of these can be changed at the end of each season to keep up your child’s interest levels. Let them choose exactly what they want to grow, plant everything themselves (with help as required) and then have the responsibility of watering and caring for it. Don’t forget: some gentle reminders from you might be required as over or under watering can cause plant casualties and disappointment for your young horticulturalist!
- Garden Photography: Older children will really enjoy heading out into the garden with a camera to take some photos. Encourage them to study the flowers and foliage they find and take notes. They can hunt for insects including bees and butterflies as well as birds, slugs, snails and other wildlife, and keep a photo diary of who visits the garden and when. Close-up photos of insects can be zoomed in on later to provide an amazing view of what they look like in detail.
- Grow to Eat: It’s still not too late in the year to grow some crops that will mature before early autumn. Strawberries, lettuces, peas and runner beans will all be ready to eat in a few weeks if bought now as young plants. Radishes and spinach can both be grown from seed and eaten within the month. Just be prepared for very few of your crops to reach the kitchen. They taste even better eaten straight from the plant!
Alison lives in Bangor with an eight-year-old, a long-suffering husband (her words) and a mischievous miniature schnauzer. She enjoys writing about gardening, family life, mishaps and mayhem with a good cup of tea by her side and has recently launched new business venture The Jolly Plot, Facebook.com/thejollyplot, to transform your outdoor space.