There is no better outdoors game than a bit of gardening with the kid(s).
Spring is undeniably here. Which means that out balcony can at last shed its winter facade and burst into bloom (that is, if I wasn’t the one owning it, but let’s not rush forward just yet). Given are seven square meters, five children (these being constant components), a couple of flower pots, potting soil, and the protagonists: flowers, herbs, flower seeds (these vary from year to year in type as well as in quantity). What could come out of all of this?
Let’s start by clearing that I am utterly talentless when it comes to gardening. Never mind that I grew up in the countryside or the fact that first my grandmother and later my father had a meticuliously tended vegetable and fruit garden as well as a wineyard, it still seems as if I’d been inoculated against all sorts of planting. Anything that ends up between my hands perishes… I seem to have magic powers, or like Husband puts it: it’s a waste of potting soil, it is enough for the plants to show myself to them, they wither before they have a chance to take root in the pots.
In spite of all this, every year I attempt the impossible and start planting… diligently… all sorts of things. My dreams haven’t changed a bit throughout the years, my fervour is undiminished and I’m really hoping that one day the spell on me will be broken. Though I am a prefectly analogue parent, I always order the plants through the internet. Our balcony is facing south, which means that the resulting constant sunlight and my incorrigible absent-mindedness when it comes to watering pose a serious threat of dehydration to the plants.
– Do you think there are plants that don’t require watering? – I asked Husband the other day.
– Maybe, if it’s made out of plastic, but even that would dry out next to you. – He responded with a bit of an edge in his voice.
To this basic situation join five children, in whom I would very much like to plant the love of plants, the seed of caring, because gardening is one of the most useful leisure activites for a family.
Working together in the garden
Working together in the garden provides a good opportunity to lure the children away from the computer or the TV and to discuss various – maybe even serious – topics while sharing experiences. Most children love to run around and play outdoors. As soon as the sun comes out and the warm weather sets in, it becomes almost impossible to keep them between the four walls. And why should we, really?
Spending time in the nature and breathing fresh air are beneficial for ther health and their mental and physical development. They can play about with anything aided by their soaring imagination and they find beauty in everything. Naturally, we can greatly help them if we create an optimal space for this in the garden. The kids don’t have great needs, all they need is a small garden they can tend themselves, a small nook they can retreat to, a drey they can hide their treasures in, or a tiny highway they can play with their toy cars on.
Through gardening we can educate them playfully and entertainingly. While they are unraveling the mysteries of nature, their manual dexterity, ability to recognise colours and shapes and their sense of smell and touch all develop. Nurturing the planted seeds gives them a sense of responsibility as well as that of achievement. Their participation makes the work a whole lot easier and before long they’ll get the hang of it.
This is especially true if they get a small piece of land they can look after and in which they can plant their mascots and the like. A fairy garden could be another tempting idea – this can even be set up in a large pot on a balcony. The taste of homegrown vegetables and fruit simply cannot be matched.
Gardening is fun
Gardening with our children is also fun for them. It is best to start with planting beans, peas and herbs as these are undemanding but grow visibly in a short time. Planting beans can be started as soon as early March and it can even be done in a pot 30 cm in diameter and can be grown on the balcony as well. The children like to eat it raw, and even the smallest of them is able to hold and sow the seeds. Beans also spring up very well, which makes them ideal for building tents out of. Strawberry and tomato are also recommended for beginner gardeners.
Watering can be done from around age 4-5, and it really is an fun thing to do. Kids initially may not be very thorough with this, some plants may get more water than others, therefore a bit supervision and adding a little more water here and there is advised. Chidren aged 6-7 and upwards can already help out with weeding, this is roughly the age from which they can reliably distinguish crops from weed despite the sometimes minute differences between them.
Planting, seating, hoeing and digging are recommended from age 8-9. Sectioning chemical treatments and other hard and dangerous tasks should never be given to children, they should be kept away from all hazardous situations. If we are doing gardening with more than one child, it should be decided well in advance who does what and what we are expecting from each one of them.
Let’s start engaging our children in gardening. We probably will not be able to pruduce enough fruit and vegetables for the family’s yearly consumption, but the joy of the common experience will surely make up for the fact. Let’s use all the area at our disposal and be creative with the possibilities of the garden and the balcony.
Let’s not forget to leave room for playing and relaxing as well.