Are you concerned about all the screen time children put in now? Whether you’ve heard of nature deficit disorder or just want to share your love of the outdoors with kids, here are five tips to get you started. Early fall can be a great time in the garden. The weather begins to cool, and children can get into the spirit of learning while harvesting, discovering the bounty of nuts and berries, or exploring winter garden preparation.
1. Find activities to do together. Think about what’s age-appropriate.
Very young children may be attracted to bright flowers or leaves in the garden. Teaching them flower and color names can distract them from picking every bloom on the plant. Encourage them to smell flowers and gently rub leaves to enjoy the fragrances of herbs.
Consider containers on the porch or patio that you and the child together fill with easy-growing plants, then water, fertilize and watch for changes. In many parts of the country, nurseries put out their seasonal fall plants such as chrysanthemums. Look for plants barely in bud, so there’s a lot to watch together.
Older children can help dig potatoes, collect fallen pecans, spread mulch or pull weeds. Look for smaller sizes of tools and small, light containers for hauling. If you show the child exactly what the weed looks like, then demonstrate how to pull it, you may find all the garden beds stripped of weeds in a short time. Just remember to check occasionally to make sure it’s the weed that’s being removed.
2. Expect they will make "mistakes"
Yes, you may end up with potatoes chopped by a trowel as the child learns to gradually expose the spud before digging underneath it. Or they’ll drop and break a small planter or spill soil or water everywhere. That’s all part of how we learn. Not only is the child learning, but you are learning, too – learning how to give instructions that suit your eager worker’s personality – from cautious and careful to rambunctious and able to hold no more than one idea at a time.
Plan ahead for tasks where making mistakes will do little harm to your landscape. And remember that contractors can tromp on previous flowerbeds and frost or drought can wipe out a special plant. Gardens are resilient and will recover from a child’s mistakes. If an accident happens, laugh and get it cleaned up, demonstrating your own resilience.
3. Teach them what you know
Think about what you know best. Is your thumb especially green when it comes to ornamental grasses? Is pruning beautifully shaped trees or hedges your specialty? Or maybe you are a late blooming gardener, just learning yourself. If your pleasure in the garden comes from garden activity, that’s wonderful! But if you are a garden watcher, following birds, butterflies or bugs instead, focus on your passion with children in your yard. They will get excited about what you get excited about.
4. Put yourself on their level
Functioning at a child’s eye level is a super way to discover your garden anew. Find low benches, kneelers, or even a rolling tractor-like seat so you can see the yard as children see it. Sit on the ground, perch on a low rock or seating wall. Notice what you see, smell, touch, and hear from this perspective. Then ask what they are observing, and together you can explore what you noticed – or what either of you missed.
Maybe there’s an old bird’s nest low in a shrub that is visible because the shrub’s leaves are falling and it’s located right in front of your eyes. Or there could be a toad in that broken pot-turned-toad-house, and he’s not visible when you’re standing. Or being on kneelers is the perfect angle to notice the butterflies puddling in a muddy spot.
5. Play and be silly
For an adult in the garden, sharing what you love with children means you can also get your hands in the dirt, splash in puddles, get pollen on your nose when sniffing a flower, build a temporary sculpture from rocks that you balance on each other, or have a tea party with nuts and berries on plates of petals. Play is good for us at all ages. Allow yourself to be immersed in imagination. Laugh, even giggle, and do nonsensical things that make children laugh. This is a great way to garden with gusto!
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