Learning how to engage children in worthwhile, healthy activity is difficult. To be honest, it’s far easier to just download an app and let them play with the iPad, especially when they’re younger. Their demands on your attention can be draining.
However, recent studies have shown that mental health issues are on the rise amongst children, even very young children. With an alarming increase in the number of children being diagnosed with ADHD, and even depression, perhaps we should look at other solutions to entertain our children.
Why Gardening with Kids is Important
Whilst it is true that some games teach children hand/eye coordination and self-reliance, our children can also learn to be reclusive and to avoid social situations.
Spending time working together on a project in the fresh air gives children the reassurance and love and confidence that they need to learn and develop healthily.
Some sufferers of poor mental health have found it to be beneficial to spend time in the fresh air, with doctors even prescribing outdoor activity as a therapy for depression.
So, where do you start? Introduce them with walks to the park, visit the local countryside, start by spending time together in the garden. Teach your toddlers and young children to enjoy being outside. Build dens with old sheets over the washing line, play hide and seek, fill a paddling pool on a warm day.
You could even get them to help you do the gardening. Tending borders, picking flowers, weeding and mowing the grass are all tasks that can be shared and made fun by engaging and involving your children. Even a small child can use a plastic rake to help pick up the grass once it’s been mown or a trowel to weed out a flowerbed.
Nature is a miraculous thing. Encourage them to plant a tiny seed with their grubby little hands, water it, watch it and wait, until one day a tiny green shoot appears through the soil. If you haven’t got a garden, a planter, or window box can be just as engaging. Even a sunny back yard can be the perfect spot to lay down a couple of compost bags and grow some tomato plants. The trick is to use what you have and get the children involved.
In this ultra-sanitised world, we can avoid exposing our kids to dirt perceiving it to be germ-ridden. The truth is exposure to the microbes present in soil promotes a strong immune system and a healthy gut. In her book, Healthy Food, Healthy Gut, Happy Child, Dr Maya Shetreat-Klein actively encourages parents to allow their children exposure to soil, stating that an over-sanitised existence is stunting the development of a strong and healthy immune system which can lead to allergies and illnesses in later life.
Not only this, the act of planting a seed, and patting the soil down, is just as important as a sensory experience to a small child as a sandpit or playing with water. Planting a seed does something else for a child, it teaches them a sense of responsibility. Discovering that the life of another living thing is entirely dependent on their care and nurture teaches your child the importance of loving, sharing, kindness and compassion. These are all traits which will vastly improve their ability to interact and make friends, throughout their lives.
Children’s Garden Ideas
As a child, much of the time we can end up being told what not to do, what not to touch and where not to go. The garden should be created to be a child-friendly space. Your football-mad offspring are far less likely to trample across your prized begonias to fetch their ball if they helped to plant them!
Even if your garden takes the rosette for Garden of the Year at the annual village fete, a child-friendly section with accessible or raised beds, a vegetable patch or sensory garden area can truly transform your child’s perspectives on life.
A Vegetable Patch
One way to help you raise healthy children is to create a vegetable patch. Setting aside space for growing vegetables teaches them where the good food comes from and what it should look like; teaches them to eat healthily.
Spending time nurturing the plants and reaping the reward for their hard work is also incredibly beneficial, encouraging a healthy state of mind too.
A sensory garden does not need to be expensive. The purchase of a few fragrant plants and flowers or herbs, can give your toddler an immersive experience for all of the senses.
Herbs such as lemon mint, rosemary and lavender are all particularly fragrant flowers. The nectar of the lavender is popular amongst the bees and so you could use this as a way to teach your children about the important work of the bees in pollinating plants to enable them to flower and bear fruit.
Buy Them Their Own Tools
Like owning your first bike, or first toy car. Having their own gardening tools your children will be eager to use them “to help Mummy/Daddy” in preparing the ground for your vegetable patch, sensory garden or in just tending the borders of your established garden.
Many garden retailers sell child-sized trowel/fork, rake and dibber. Start them when they’re young and watch their enthusiasm grow as they do.
Let Them Help You Paint the Fence
Some tasks like painting the fence or the decking may seem menial and monotonous. Encouraging your children to help by giving them a small brush makes them feel like a part of the family and a part of the project. These simple acts may seem like hassle at the time, but encouragement from an early age gives children confidence for the challenges they will face as they grow.
Build a Treehouse
If you have a tree big enough, and tools sufficient, building a treehouse will give your children hours of entertainment. From their high vantage point, your children can engage in a multitude of make-believe games and experience the joy of being in and around nature.
If it is a particularly big tree or you have very young children take advice from a professional joiner or tree surgeon, before undertaking any work, to ensure the health and safety of your child.
When you start planning your garden take your children with you to buy the seeds. Encourage them to help you dig up the ground to prepare the soil for sowing. All of these simple acts teach your children patience, consequence, social-interaction, the value of hard work and the joy of seeing a project come to fruition.