All things nice for the little ones. The focus this month is on how we can involve children in the garden. Janine Jorgensen from HOME OWNER magazine contacted the Irene School of Garden Design recently with some issues that face our young ones recently, and we came up with some great ideas to keep the little ones active and happy in the garden.
The question is always what can home owners add to gardens for their children, but we think the question should rather be how can homeowners get more use out of the garden they have. Parents are all too often over eager in making big purchases like installing a jungle or activity gym, but the honest truth is that children get used to things so quickly that it will only provide a few months of enjoyment. Garden are like large multifunctional spaces, and by planning activities and events one can make better use of gardens, and provide a larger variety of experiences. Make every holiday or event an occasion. Rather rent jumping castles and involve children in the making of garden decorations, and setting up for an event in preparation for a party, and enjoy the party together. Of all the investments people can make, time is the most memorable and valuable. Some of the “big ticket items” that does make more sense is a child safe pool that will be useful in all stages of life. More and more families are also taking some tech outdoors, and a white patio blind or screen is the perfect backdrop for movies and family time spent together outdoors.
Gardens are such an integral part of learning for children as it is a living thing. Our schools’ dictum is designing gardens for life. All sorts of life, life of plants and life of animals and insects, but most of all our lives and connections to other life. It is where nature on however small and controlled scale creeps into our heavily urbanised lifestyles. There are three categories of learning that stand out above the rest.
Activities for knowledge that can be done indoors as well.
One of the most interesting observations I have made as a lecturer and garden designer is how little people know and understand about their own garden. Gardens are full of processes and millions of living interactions. Parents can focus the learning not only on the plants itself, but also on these processes. Start a garden calendar with your children. Document things like rainfall, which animals visit the garden. Encourage life to enter, by making birdfeeders and keep track of when birds migrate and when they return being more prepared every time. Learn about what plants you have in your garden, and what they attract or can be used for. Plant plants that are particularly interesting or useful in tea or as food. Give them funny names to remember them. I often think one of the “coolest” gifts I received as a child was a microscope, and I would put all sorts of plants and soil samples under them to see them up close. Pic flowers and press them, and make a library of all the plants that you own.
Activities for Learning, life and mental skills.
Gardens are the perfect places to learn how to be patient, fierce and gentle.
Vegetable gardens and even more so holistic completely organic vegetable gardens is quite the rage at the moment. They are labour intensive, but let the kids take ownership. Allow them the freedom to get dirty and enjoy it. Completely organic vegetable garden are more difficult but result in the most learning, as one tries to balance nature out with nature. It is far more rewarding to use homemade compost and prepare the soil, and plants from seed going through the motion of first propagating them and then transplanting them to taking care of them and then have fun cooking with them. It teaches a variety of essential skills as long as it done from beginning to end together. Do not exclude the building of the vegetable boxes and the preparation of the soil for instance from the process. Also do not assume that some activities are gender orientated. Both boys and girls enjoy all the aspects of gardening.
Activities to develop problem solving and physical skills.
One thing all children enjoy is building and making shelters. Girls make tea houses and castles, boys make army camps and space ships, and that is why I sometimes thing, simply providing a pre-fabricated structure take all the fun out of gardens. I would rather suggest that home owners buy materials that are not too heavy, sharp or dangerous out of which children can creatively build little shelters. They are temporary and that can be planned differently next time to be a better shelter. Children learn how to concentrate and come up with better solutions every time. Look creatively at what is on the market and at your local hardware store, and let your children explore how this can become a shelter, and enhance their experience with children’s furniture as a reward.
For more useful ideas and a very inspiring read on how to get the most out of your garden for children, get your June 2015 copy of HOME OWNER magazine, and visit their website.
We would also like to thank the Harms family for the beautiful photos, and support for this article.