Just as many adults have appreciated the opportunity to enjoy their gardens during the last few weeks, it has been even more important to use any available safe outside space for children.
Many seed companies have reported record sales of herb and vegetable seeds as we take up the chance to start or develop a vegetable garden. The heritage and organic seed companies have benefited particularly.
This is an ideal opportunity to involve children, and gives them so many benefits.
Following the whole process of growing simple things like beetroot, lettuces or tomatoes can be a great way of learning patience and perhaps also getting these eaten on a regular basis. Learning that food has to be grown and does not appear wrapped in plastic at the supermarket from nowhere can be very satisfying. There is a lot of fun to be had helping to fill large pots or raised beds with compost and using the watering can.
Having dirty hands and getting messy is a vital way of connecting with our senses and children will remember much more vividly when their senses are involved. Try to include different textures in your plant choices. Felty leaves such as sage in a herb garden, small succulents can be grouped in a shallow bowl to make a mini-garden and even making collections of different leaves to stick into a book can be fun.
For those of us lucky enough to have been involved in our parents’ or grandparents’ gardens at an early age, it now seems obvious what to do with seeds and cuttings and important skills can be passed onto the next generation.
Another easy way to start your vegetable garden is to purchase the lovely small plug plants that are available here. Classic games such as measuring your sunflower or growing broad beans in a jam jar with blotting paper or kitchen paper to see the root and shoot develop against the glass is fascinating. Even cutting the top off a carrot and putting it into a saucer with water so that the leaves grow again … surely we have all done that one!
It does not take much space or effort to put aside one or two large pots for children to help plant up, even longer-term colour can come with bulbs buried below easy annuals like marigolds and one or two strawberry plants. For even longer-term fun, why not start a compost bucket or even a worm farm or bug hotel? If you have anything that can hold compost, you can make a garden, use unusual containers like old teapots, rubber boots or colourful buckets.
Counting seeds, weighing produce and looking up recipes all add to the educational aspect of growing food. Making a simple salad with leaves and edible flowers can be a great activity for all ages. Edible flowers such as nasturtium, violets, roses, borage, jasmine and hollyhock as well as rosemary and honeysuckle. There are some great resources available online with easy recipes for making jellies and refreshing drinks using simple ingredients from the garden. In a Mediterranean garden, we have a full range of aromatic plants such as thyme, lemon balm, basil, sage and oregano to add to the interest.
Another benefit to spending time outside is the chance to closely observe the bugs and mini-beasts, the birds and butterflies, and understand the whole cycle of life associated with our plants and gardens.
If you already have some fruit and vegetables in your garden, then you have a head start in getting the children involved during their time at home – collecting food for the table and helping with the watering and weeding can seem like a chore for busy adults. These are all opportunities for us to slow down and concentrate on achieving small tasks together.
And remember, even a messy result is a good result when adults and children alike will feel less stressed and more involved in the world around them. Most important of all – have fun!
For books on gardening for children in English and Portuguese by Fernanda Botelha, go to Bertrand.pt (search for author).
For articles on gardening with children, go to www.montessorinature.com
By Rosie Peddle