If the kitchen is the heart of a family home, then the garden is surely the lungs, for nothing feeds vitality, health and development like time spent outdoors. For children, gardens represent a world of opportunity for fun and adventure, even in the absence of toys or apparatus. But the value of a garden doesn't just lie in open space for running, jumping, and so forth! There's an invaluable sensory and learning experience to also be had by pushing the boundaries, quite literally, to include gardening activities such a planting and weeding.
Much like how encouraging participation in cooking can develop a deeper appreciation of food, giving children the chance to try their hand at gardening can do the same for their grasp of nature and wildlife.
So how best to get your little garden hand on board?
A colourful (or even personalised) children's gardening set is a good way to plant the seed of interest, and to facilitate small-scale watering and digging operations. (Children's wooden trowel from Little Ella James at notonthehighstreet.com
Coloured, personalised or themed planters and pots will help children see gardening as a fun activity to get involved with. (Personalised crates by Plantabox at notonthehighstreet.com.)
Mark their territory
Giving a child one patch of border to call their own and for them to tend to will impart a sense of trust and responsibility. Crates are a good way of creating a specific area for them, and these can be personalised to lend an all-important sense of ownership to the plants that grow there. You can also buy or make some fun plant markers to make the planting process more child-friendly. (Garden plant markers from www.littlepals.co.uk).
Planting fruit and/or vegetable seeds carries the prospect of an edible reward, which in turn creates a vested interest in continued garden upkeep (ie. watering, weeding etc), particularly as the fruits or vegetables begin to take shape. (Kids veg seeds from gardendivas.co.uk)
Bird (and bug) watch
Encouraging children to watch for garden visitors raises their awareness of nature and creates a fun challenge to pass the time. Bug spotting can be similarly fascinating - a game facilitated by the addition of a 'bug house'. (Peter rabbit insect house by Garden Divas, Wooden bug house by Ellie Ellie at notonthehighstreet.co.uk)
Hogging the garden
Children love hedgehogs, and you can build the suspense of potentially seeing one by creating a helpful hedgehog home in your garden. You can make your hedgehog home when you like, but putting it in place during spring or summer means it will be ready when they're house-hunting in autumn. Read more.
Neat & tidy
Garden clearance might not sound like the most fun job for a toddler, but they'll invariably rise to the challenge of filling a miniature wheelbarrow with collected leaves and twigs. (Children's wheelbarrow and sweep up set from www.littlepals.co.uk) .
The popularity of pebble-hunting has gathered pace up and down the nation, mainly driven by Facebook and Instagram, and giving children the chance to paint their own pebbles and hide them in the garden, or use them to decorate their own area of border, can be a fun and creative activity to encourage a love of garden time. (Pebble painting kit available from onbuy.com)
Cook up a (muddy) storm
A Mud Kitchen is a brilliant way to connect children with nature, and allowing them to play with dirt may also be good for their health! According to the company behind these brilliant inventions, dirt contains microsopic bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae which increases the levels of seratonin in the brain, helping to relax, soothe and calm.
Dress the part
Getting kids properly kitted out for some gardening activity will enable them to enjoy themselves without the cold and wet putting a dampener on things. Kidunk specialise in playsuits which are breathable with a fleecy inside, but.Teflon™ coated to resist water and stains.
Read all about it
Encouraging kids to read garden-themed books can help to develop their interest in green fingered activities. (My Garden Sticker Activity Book by garden divas.co.uk)
You can incentivise more garden time, and create an area for them to relax between gardening efforts, with a children's twigwam. (Top: Twigwam by Primrose, below: Twigwam by Chairworks at notonthehighstreet,com)
Read more about garden fun in the spring issue of Mums Magazine
Make a hedgehog house with Kids Craft Room