Not all kids want to run around an oval or chase a footy all over the field but all kids need to be active, especially when statistics show that kids spend, on average, over two hours a day in front of a screen*. The good news is that gardening is a fun and easy way to get kids moving and since thirty minutes of gardening burns a similar amount of energy as thirty minutes of moderate walking, it’s a very effective form of exercise.
For many kids, being elbow deep in dirt and watching their own garden bed grow is their idea of bliss but others are reluctant to get their hands dirty and just can’t see the point in all that work and waiting for something to eat when there’s food in the fridge anyway. Older kids may even think that gardening just isn’t cool! (Am I showing my age using that word? Perhaps I should have said ‘fully sick’.)
Anyway, back to gardening. When you think about it, it’s great that all kids are unique and that they have different interests that should be encouraged and nurtured. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be enticed into the garden with a little bit of stealth and ingenuity, traits that parents discover in themselves as soon as their children are born.
The trick to motivating a young, reluctant gardener is to start with things that they are interested in and already enjoy and then finding ways to combine that with being in the garden, in whatever form that is.
Take the child who just won’t get off the computer or away from the TV and who wouldn’t dream of setting foot out in the garden. As much as adults just want to say, “Turn that thing off and go outside into the sunshine,” the fact is that the result will probably be a lot of grumbling and moping around. But, if the same child was encouraged to watch Dirt Girl World on ABC4Kids or was bought a garden-themed computer game, at least it’s a step in the right direction and perhaps, after a little prompting and some patience, they might even head outside to plant some real vegies of their own just as they saw happen on their screen.
There are a lot of opportunities for artistic kids to contribute to the garden without having to get their hands dirty. Whirly gigs to scare off the birds and plant labels are almost essential to a vegie patch and a fantastic activity is to get kids to make sunflower seed mats. It’s really simple. They draw and decorate a huge sunflower on a piece of paper and then, in the centre, glue sunflower seeds. They then plant it flat in the garden and before long, the seeds sprout and eventually they will be looking up in amazement at the happy yellow flowers that they’ve grown.
Getting kids that like bugs and insects into the garden is simple. Just buy them a magnifying glass. They will spend hours on their belly exploring the garden beds and getting up close and personal with worms. It’s an amazing opportunity to start chatting with them about soil, root systems, flowers and leaves and they might even decide to build the little habitats for the bugs or grow some flowers to encourage more to come to live in their own secret world.
Sporty kids, the ones that really do want to run around the oval, can still become interested in the garden. Whether that’s through growing themselves an ‘ironman garden’ full of spinach and kale to boost their energy before the game, or getting involved in some pre-season maintenance on the backyard footy oval or cricket pitch that is the family lawn. They might even learn to mow those stripes into the lawn just like they do on the MCG.
Girls that love to dance will become entranced by the beautiful ballerina flowers of the fuchsia and boys that just can’t tear themselves away from their Lego would get a thrill out of building fabulous sculptures to take pride of place in the garden. Kids can grow miniature gardens for their Tonka trucks and Matchbox cars or landscape their cubby house with window boxes and pots of colour. And, of course, every child adores their pet and will know that they are doing something very special by growing them a pot of pet grass (Dactylis glomerata). It aids the digestion of both cats and dogs and is also good for rabbits, guinea pigs and birds.
The path to the garden is not always a straight one and with some kids it may be long and winding but as we know with gardens, sometimes it’s the unexpected pleasures that you find along the way that really make the experience so much more enjoyable. So, to get your kids growing, start with what they know and make sure that they enjoy the experience. If they have fun in the garden the first time, they will jump at the chance to do it again.
* Australian Bureau of Statistics: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4364.0.55.004Chapter1002011-12