Spring has sprung and many of us are starting to get back out into the garden. Spring is a great time to get children involved in gardening – it’s good for all of us to be outside and enjoying the fresh air.
Encouraging children to enjoy plants and gardening from a young age helps educate them and is a healthy and inexpensive way to have fun at home, school or on an allotment.
Research shows that children who learn to grow their own fruit and vegetables develop a greater interest in healthy eating.
Learning in the garden
Gardening offers all sorts of educational opportunities for children of all ages. They can learn about different plants, the parts of a plant and what they need to grow; different seasons and what changes happen outside throughout the year; reading and following instructions on seed packets; finding different animals and insects; finding out where food comes from; exploring outdoors and having adventures – the opportunities are endless.
Size doesn’t matter
If you have a large garden you could make a children’s area – a dedicated space where your children can grow plants they like and can help out with looking after them.
However, you don’t need a big garden to get involved. No matter what the size of your outside space you can grow something and enjoy the benefits of outdoor living.
If you do not have a garden or do not have areas of soil to grow plants in, use containers, hanging baskets or window boxes – many types of plants can be grown in these small spaces and are much easier to look after than large garden areas.
Alternatively you could rent an allotment. This is a way of accessing land to grow your own plants, flowers, fruit and vegetables. If you do not want a whole allotment yourself, you could join with friends or family to have one and share the duties. Contact your local council to find out about allotments in your area.
What to grow
In order to keep children interested in gardening it’s a good idea to grow plants that are easy and quick to grow and look after. Take a trip to your local garden centre where you will be able to get advice and buy seeds and young plants to plants out in your garden or containers. Here are a few ideas:
- Flowers – Sunflowers, Nasturtiums, Daffodils, Snowdrops, Lobelia,
- Fruit and Vegetables – strawberries, runner beans, lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers
- Herbs – Mint, Rosemary, Thyme, Chives, Sage, Parsley
Growing plants in containers
A wide variety of plants can be grown in containers including herbs, bulbs, bedding plants, vegetables and even small trees and shrubs. You can buy a huge range of containers – pots, tubs, and troughs – in varying sizes, colours and materials. Or you can adapt things you might already have at home, such as old wellies, a bucket, a bowl, anything really that will last outside and can hold a plant.
To plant up a container:
- Choose a container with sufficient room for plants to grow
- Ensure it has drainage holes and add a layer of stones to the bottom to help with drainage
- Fill the pot two-thirds full with compost
- Position the plants carefully in place in your pot, being careful with the roots.
- Fill the top with compost and pat down, leaving a few centimetres at the top for watering
- Water well and continue to water regularly throughout the growing season, depending on the plant’s needs
Whilst the garden is a fun place to play there are some dangers, particularly for young children. Here are a few important garden safety tips:
- Never leave a young child unsupervised in the garden
- Ensure your garden is securely fenced in so children cannot wander off without you knowing
- Never leave a young child unsupervised near water – if you have a pond then fence it off, cover it with special meshing or consider draining it and turning it into a sand pit or flower bed
- Keep all tools and garden machinery out of the reach of children and lock them away immediately after use.
- Use common sense for which tools children can use. Always teach them how to use tools safely and supervise children whilst using them. Children’s versions of tools are available so it might be best to have some of those.
- Keep all garden chemicals, such as weed killers, securely locked away out of children’s reach. Label bottles and do not store chemicals in containers that could be mistaken for something else, e.g. soft drinks bottles
- Teach children not to eat any berries, leaves or flowers. As children get older you can teach them about which plants are poisonous and which are safe to eat but if in doubt, avoid them.
- Always wash hands thoroughly after being in the garden
An easy growing project – a cress sheep!
You will need:
- A paper plate
- Cress seeds
- Cotton wool
- Black pen
- Glue a lump of cotton wool to the middle of the plate – this will be your sheep’s body.
- Draw a head, tail and legs around the body
- Dampen the cotton wool with a little bit of water – use a spray if you have one. Don’t get the cotton wool too wet.
- Sprinkle cress seeds onto the cotton wool and spray lightly again with water
- Leave on a window sill and wait for the seeds to grow – it will only take a few days. Keep the cotton wool moist by watering a little each day.
- Once the cress has grown, you can shear the sheep using scissors and add it to a salad or a sandwich
At ELF we offer some resources to help with getting children involved in gardening. Our Indoor/Outdoor Mini Garden provides a space for children to grow their own seeds and look after plants. It can be used in conjunction with the School Planter, which is ideal to transfer seedlings to for continued growth and care.
At Early Learning Furniture we are experts in early years’ education resources including classroom furniture, school dining furniture and school play equipment. For more information about our products please contact us or call us on 01733 511121.