Gardeners have long claimed higher job satisfaction and lower stress levels, this could perhapsbe explained by recent scientific research which suggests that microbes found in soil canstimulate serotonin production in the body, a substance which make us feel relaxed and happy. That, to me, translates that getting into the garden and getting dirty is good for you and something all the family can benefit from. With the days getting longer, brighter and warmer there are more opportunities to get out and get interacting with these microbes. Sometimes it can be tricky getting out into the garden when you have children, how to involve them, keep them interested and occupied? Below are four simple garden related activities to do with your children, they require a minimum of materials and preparation, and you can start from just about any age.
Mud Glorious Mud:
My eldest daughter, Grace, has been out in the garden a lot with her Mum and Dad, we are both professionally trained gardeners, so it goes with the territory. However for the most part she has been either in a bassinet sleeping or in the backpack while we do the digging, planting, weeding etc. Now she is getting bigger, and not everything is tried out via the mouth (phew), she is ready to explore the garden herself a bit more. Making mud pies is a classic activity to occupy toddlers, as they are mimicking, what they have seen their parents doing in the kitchen. You can take this activity a little further and create a mud ‘kitchen’ where your little ones can mix and bake their mud pies, oh and wash up too if course, definitely a useful life skill!
Making mud pies, actually mud biscuits, is my daughters new favourite garden activity.
Growing a plant from a seed can give enormous satisfaction, imagine a sunflower seed and what enormity lies within something so small. With smaller children try sowing large seeds and choosing familiar plants which are bright, not poisonous and have a relatively quick germination. Marigolds (Calendula type), nasturtiums or sunflowers all fit this description. You could also try growing vegetables which your children like to eat: peas are a classic choice, as they are delicious just to pick and eat whilst in the garden. I recommend sowing seeds into individual small pots, and then planting out as it allows your child to connect the seed to the plant and they can see the development of the roots too. Older children may like to try sowing something a little different, like strawberry spinach (pictured below), ‘electric’ daisies (Acmella oleracea) or the miniature cucumber-like ‘Cucamelon’ (Melothria scabra), all of which can be sourced with a quick seed search online.
Calendula type marigolds are bright and cheerful, easy to sow and grow, are beneficial in the garden, oh and you can eat the petals too! Here they are grown with strawberry spinach (Chenopodium capitatum) an unusual edible for older children to try growing.
Some kids really like bugs, and just looking in the garden for different creatures is a simple activity even the most cautious children will be stimulated by. Grace on discovering wiggly worms, was wary at first, but then curious, and she now especially likes looking for them and putting them ‘back to bed’. Encouraging wildlife diversity in your garden will also help it thrive, all the while teaching your child about looking after nature and the environment.
A more advanced activity along these lines is building a bug hotel in your garden. You will need to make a level spot and gather a variety of materials. Be creative, look to recycle objects you have like old pots, bits of wood, old bamboo canes cut up, pine cones, straw and hay. Make a frame work using wood, bricks or old pallets, build it as high as you like but you want it to be stable, pack in the gaps using the recycled materials and cover with a roof, for this you could use old tiles, or a piece of old roofing felt- it depends on what you have to hand. Voilà, your bug hotel is ready for its new inhabitants to move in. These structures, depending on where you site them, and what materials you use, will attract a variety of wildlife including hedgehogs, solitary bees, frogs, toads, and all sorts of creepy crawlies!
There are so many textures and colours that can be found in the garden at almost any time of year: leaves, sticks, flowers, grass clippings. Textural objects are really great for little ones who are exploring the world around them, obviously you just have to watch the little ones don't try to eat or taste everything! A really fun garden activity for bigger and creatively inclined kids is making a picture of an animal out of found natural materials. It helps to work against a plain background this could be a pavement or a piece of plain paper, if working on paper a glue stick and/or double sided tape are also useful especially if you want to keep the picture. Younger children might like an outline to work from. This can be a great activity for a group of kids to work together on or a party game even with a prize of course for the best animal!
Rohanna Heyes, with her husband, Michael Evans designed and built the acclaimed ‘Nourishment’ feature garden at last year's Allianz Garden Show Ireland. Rohanna has a background in horticulture with experience in designing, working in public gardens, creating horticultural displays, and has worked at both the Chelsea Flower Show and Hampton Court. As well as these experiences Rohanna has written horticultural content for the Royal Horticultural Society and other gardening websites and had photography published alongside. Currently pre-occupied with having a new baby and chasing a toddler, there is still plenty of gardening to be done with designing and making the garden at their new house and teaching Grace, two, about wiggly worms and mud pies.