Gardening for children: Simple activities for lifelong learning
Like peas and corn, tomatoes and basil, rosemary and thyme – children and dirt go hand in hand! Most kids love being outside, digging in the dirt, splashing in puddles, picking flowers and looking for bugs. But did you know gardening has powerful developmental benefits, too?
Nature is a wonderful educator, and gardening is an easy way to get your children outdoors and learning new skills. You don’t need an enormous backyard, either. Just a small space will do, or even a large container. From planting and weeding, to mulching and picking, gardening is a healthy and fun educational activity for children of all ages, no matter where you live.
Some of the benefits of gardening include:
- Teaches responsibility. Children learn that they are responsible for the health of their seeds and plants. Depending on the age of your child, give them a checklist of things they must do regularly to take care of their garden, eg: water, mulch.
- Introduces scientific concepts. Children learn about botany, biology and chemistry, as well as the basic steps of the scientific process. After planting their seed or plant, they can monitor its growth, learn about the impacts of water and sunlight, discover what works and what doesn’t, and learn what to do differently next time.
- Builds self-confidence. If you’ve ever grown a vegetable, you know how exciting and self-satisfying it is to finally pick it and eat it! Children will get a real kick out of seeing their seedlings grow into real vegetables. Knowing their actions led to the plant’s growth is a great confidence builder. Importantly, gardening also teaches children about resilience when their plants do not grow as well as they’d hoped.
- Encourages healthy eating. Do you have fussy eaters? Gardening may be the answer! Children are more likely to get excited about eating fruit and vegetables they have grown. It also teaches them about nutrition and what the term “fresh food” means.
- Teaches patience. Gardening can be a slow process. Plants do not grow overnight! Children will learn what it means to be patient and get a great deal of pleasure out of watching their plants and flowers grow.
- Nurtures a love of nature. Gardening nurtures your child’s bond with the environment, which means they’ll be more likely to want to take care of it. Gardening is a great opportunity to teach your child about the importance of recycling and putting litter in the bin.
- Encourages cooperation and bonding. Gardening provides a great opportunity for you to work alongside your children. It brings you both “into the moment”, creating beautiful memories that will last a lifetime. It also encourages cooperation between siblings as they decide what to plant and where.
- Engages the senses. Touch, sight, taste, smell and sound are all part of gardening. Feeling the dirt and leaves, seeing the different colours and sizes of the plants, hearing the rustle of the leaves and snap of twigs, tasting the vegetables, smelling herbs and flowers are all important for children’s development.
Worried you’re not much of a green thumb? The great thing is you don’t have to be a gardening expert to get your children interested. You also don’t have to give them free reign of your backyard! Here are some simple activities to get you started:
- Get your children excited about gardening by letting them choose their own (size appropriate) gardening equipment. You can often get kids’ gardening packs at home and garden stores.
- Let your children design their garden – either a small patch in the backyard or some pots and containers.
- Plant fruits, vegetables and flowers that are easy to grow: sunflowers, tomatoes, strawberries, beans, cucumbers, broccoli, pumpkin.
- Try planting veggies and nuts that grow underground: potatoes, carrots, garlic, onion, beetroot, peanuts.
- Plant herbs with pungent smells: basil, rosemary, chives, mint, thyme, sage.
- Grow colourful flowers: marigolds, snapdragons, daffodils, pansies, geraniums, fuchsias.
- Grow green beans on a trellis or tepee.
- Make a small scarecrow using materials and scraps found around the house and backyard.
- Instead of using terracotta or plastic pots, get creative: use old gumboots, cans, paint tins, watering cans, hollowed tree stumps, teacups.
- Set up a bird bath and/or bird feeder to attract more birdlife.
Always keep your children’s safety front of mind when gardening: use sunscreen, store equipment safely, keep fertilisers out of reach, secure fences and gates, and don’t keep buckets of water around infants or unattended young children.
Happy outside play
This post was written by Lauren Shay from Fullstop Publishing, on behalf of My Cubby – promoters of getting kids back outside into happy, health play.