Designing your garden to be kid friendly is the first step towards encouraging kids to get outside. The reality is that parents must love to be outside in order to pass that love on to their kids. If your favourite activity is sitting on a couch watching TV, chances are that your kids will consciously or unconsciously model that. It may be that in encouraging your children to get outside and love being in the garden, you will also rediscover the joys of gardening.
Empowering your kids to become involved in the garden also gives you the opportunity to teach them a lot of sound environmental principles, such as recycling and composting, caring for nature and the environment, and the importance of organic gardening.
How to make a log spiral..a fun project
Wooden stepping stones are an easy way to add interest and excitement to a garden. They can also be moved and changed when you or your kids tire of them. Use hardwood log cuts and dig them in deeply so they are secure and won’t topple over when kids run or jump on them. We used rounds of red gum to make a log spiral then planted one side with a dwarf dianella (a clumping native lily with soft green leaves) and the other with mixed jonquil and daffodil bulbs for seasonal interest in late winter in spring. With more space and access to wooden slabs, you could make a more complex structure such as a labyrinth.
Wooden stepping stones laid out in a spiral
How to encourage kids outside:
- Interact When kids are young they love to help, so giving them the opportunity to do meaningful activity alongside you in the garden can channel the energy and exuberance of even the most active youngsters. As well as having a sandpit for fun, give kids practical, useful activities to do in the garden, such as helping to turn over the compost heap, dig over the vegetable garden, prepare new beds for planting, or wheelbarrow in compost.
Kids making daisy chains
- Discovery Kids love to explore, so let them discover the amazing world of bugs and nature within their own garden, whether it is worms in the compost heap or worm farm, spider webs covered with dew, or aquatic creatures in a pond. Look at insects under a magnifying glass or in a bug jar. Have a few good bug books or apps handy to help you to identify the creatures, so you and the kids can then read up and learn about them. Let children pick flowers for a vase or float individual flowers in a bowl of water; collect seed heads, seed pods and cones, leaves of all shapes and sizes, interesting twigs and pieces of bark.
- Intrigue The current trend of ultra-formal ‘controlled’ gardens is neither as intriguing nor inviting for children as those gardens with informal paths that meander and allow them to wander around and explore nooks and crannies. As well as growing a diversity of plants, design a garden where the structure invites exploration and adventure.
A gumboot creates an unusual feature in the garden.
- Growing Kids love growing things, so let them help or do some things themselves. They could plant a vegetable garden or grow flowers from seeds, seedling punnets or small potted plants. Choose fun varieties that are easy to grow. Think about plants that make a big impact such as sunflowers, which can grow from a seed to a plant that will tower over them in just 16 weeks. Or choose a giant fast-growing climber such as New Guinea bean, which grows so rapidly it brings Jack and the Beanstalk to life. Their growth powers away almost before your eyes, and the beans can grow a metre long if you let them. My kids love to go and measure how long the beans are growing. As well, have some fun planting up unusual containers such as old boots or saucepans, or even old toys. You could also grow some giant gourds and use the dried gourds for craft purposes afterwards.
- Harvesting Many kids also love to help in the kitchen, so why not combine cooking and gardening using fruits, vegetables and herbs picked fresh from the garden?
- Sensory gardens As well as stimulating our sense of taste when we cook produce from them, gardens are also great for developing the other senses. Let kids feel the differences in leaf and bark texture by growing soft leafy plants such as the velvety lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina) and rough-trunked tree ferns. Stop and listen to the sounds of gardens as birds call and the wind rustles through foliage. Spend time enjoying the different scents of flow.
Find out more
This is an extract from Sophie Thomson’s latest book, Sophie’s Patch. Find out more https://sophiespatch.com.au/