Earth Day and every day gardening with children
Earth Day – or any day – is the peak time to be gardening with children, sowing the seeds of a lifelong habit.
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Susan Sachs Lipman is the author of "Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World," which grew out of her award-winning blog, Slow Family Online. She is the social media director for the Children & Nature Network. Susan and her family enjoy gardening, hiking, soap crafting and food canning.
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Certain plants and flowers are known to attract various butterflies and birds. This can add another level of delight for children. The National Wildlife Federation has information about how to turn any garden into a habitat for wildlife. Even if you don’t get your garden “wildlife” certified, there are a lot of fun, helpful tips for bringing creatures into your yard.
Let your child plant.
In addition to helping children feel ownership of the garden, the act of putting seeds into the ground and then watching them come up is great fun. Large seeds like nasturtium, peas, beans, sunflowers, and gourds can be especially easy for children to handle and poke into holes. Smaller seeds can be mixed with coffee grounds for scattering. You can usually tell the relative size of a seed by shaking the seed packet.
Let your child water.
Most children love to water. Teach them to check the soil by poking a finger down a couple of inches. If they feel moistness, there’s no need to water. If it’s dry, the plant is thirsty. It’s also best to water early or late in the day, so that the water doesn’t dry out in the sun before getting to the roots of the plants. Water fairly deeply and try to get the water into the dirt instead of right on the plants, where it can damage leaves and stems.
Let your child harvest.
Children also love to harvest what they’ve grown. Be sure to have them experience picking their own vegetables or flowers (with you helping to cut stems, as necessary.) Cooking or baking with the food you’ve grown is, of course, a delight. Strawberries are really fun to grow and eat right in the garden – I’ve had the best luck with young plants rather than seeds. Catnip is fun to grow if you have an appreciative cat. And flowers are fun to give others on Earth Day, May Day or anytime.
Avoid the use of pesticides in any garden that you’ll be eating from, or even spending time in.
If your garden does develop an unwanted species, take an affected piece of the plant to your local garden-supply store and ask for advice on how to treat it organically.
Let the diggers dig.
Some children prove especially interested in what’s under the ground. For them, an area in which to dig and look at worms and other creatures may be ideal.
(Relatedly, when my daughter’s wonderful pre-school learned they were going to have new-home construction occur next door, they cut a hole in the fence and covered it with plexiglass. A whole group of kids regularly watched the bulldozers and other tools of construction with fascination. In other words, it’s good to remember that kids aren’t necessarily interested in the same things we are.)
Allow for mistakes and experimentation. Children can learn early that things don’t always grow as planned. Likewise, gardens can be wonderful places to explore, experiment, and observe. Try planting the same plant in different conditions, or grow something you’ve never grown, just to see what happens.