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Young children want to participate in their parents hobbies and interests whether it is cooking, gardening or carpentry. Allowing children to be involved gives them a sense of identity and a feeling of worth. They also learn many practical skills from an early age. Children love to have parents’ time and attention and a feeling that they are included in important activities.
Gardening with children can be fun and educational, and also provide a healthy outdoor activity. Adults often associate happy memories with childhood interests, such as gardening, which can spur a lifelong interest in horticultural activity.
Children’s abundant energy, curiosity and need to mimic can be harnessed. Calling chores by another name can be more fun and children will be more enthusiastic if the task is presented as an activity rather than a necessary job.
Buying a set of children’s garden tools or cutting down regular tools to an appropriate size is a good starting point. Remember manual dexterity is age related so not all tools and tasks will be appropriate. It is not the success they achieve but the involvement that is important. Getting in and getting dirty is half the fun. Don’t worry about gloves; kids need to get their fingers in the soil.
When children show interest in gardening they should be given a small patch of ground where they can plant their own flowers, fruit or veggies. If space is a problem then use a planter box or large pot on a deck or patio. Plant for success. Use large seeds and quick growing and maturing veggies such as beans or zucchini if possible. Plant extra seeds to prevent failure. Much of the learning and fun is in the doing, not necessarily the end result. Remember when you were a child and building a fort was more fun than playing in it when finished.
As any experienced gardener knows, there are no shortages of things a child can help with in a garden. They can shovel compost with a small shovel or plastic scoop, mix potting soil for new plants and quickly learn which plants are weeds. Planting seeds, watering new plants and checking for pests are all within their means. Older children can be given a large magnifying glass and set out on a bug hunt where they soon learn the good ones from the bad ones. Going on “slug patrol” and seeing who can collect the greatest number is a great motivator.
Kids love to harvest beans, peas, tomatoes and to grab the new potatoes as they tumble out of the soil when dug. Picking salad leaves or herbs such as parsley and basil can lead to a follow-up kitchen project. Collecting food items from the garden gives children the feeling they have contributed something to the family meal. Acknowledgment of this is important to the child.
Setting up a small worm bin to compost kitchen waste shows children that creepy-crawlies in the natural world are not all bad and have an important role to play in recycling organics back into natural compost and plant food.
Early childhood activities will help to set attitudes, values and memories for a lifetime – gardening is certainly no exception.
Find child-friendly plants at your local nursery or garden centre. For a list of BCLNA retailers go to the BCLNA page on this website.