If there’s one thing the current coronavirus lockdown is forcing us to discover, it’s how to keep the younger members of the household entertained. Kids are bundles of energy: enthusiastic, curious…and relentless!
Of course, the Great Outdoors can keep them amused and outdoors is the perfect classroom to feed their hungry minds. Children are like sponges, absorbing the world around them. Use this to their advantage (and yours!) by teaching them skills that will last a lifetime.
Here, then, is how to keep your little ones happy, healthy and educated using your garden...
Sow Some Seeds
The obvious activity to begin with, particularly in spring, is sowing! Get your kids to help with this year’s vegetables. If you have the space, offer them an area of their own, even if it’s just a couple of pots.
Ask them to compile a (realistic!) list of what they’d like to grow then help them start it all off. But – and this is important – let them do as much of the work involved as they can so that they have a real sense of ownership over their space. This is absolutely the best way to keep them excited and engaged with the whole process.
If you don’t have a garden sow something indoors. Sow microgreens such as cress or mustard onto damp paper towel. Move them to a bright windowsill once they’ve sprouted and keep them damp. They’ll give something tasty to eat within a matter of days.
Fun Plant Biology Lessons
Teach them how germination works by sprouting bean seeds in a jar. Roll up several sheets of paper towel into a cylinder then pop them inside a clear clean jar. Dampen the paper then push some bean seeds in between the glass and the damp towel. Check regularly for signs of germination and observe the roots and shoots as they push through. Explain the difference between the young seedling leaves and the first true, or adult leaves.
Another fun project is to dig up and pot up a young dandelion. Dig up as much of the long taproot as you can and transplant it to a container of soil or potting mix. Give it a water then move it to a windowsill. Rather than being mown or weeded out, this way your kids will get to see how the plant produces its flowers and seeds. Why does it do this? Can they guess how many seeds there are? How would the seeds get dispersed?
Go On a Bug Hunt
Send them out into the garden to hunt for bugs. How many can they spot?
If they’re feeling arty, get them to draw their favourite bug. Try drawing from memory or use a photo as a guide. Don’t forget to colour it all in!
Look after our six- and eight-legged friends too – try making a bug hotel. It’s a really fun project and you can use scraps from around the garden to fill it.
Make a Bird Feeder
Or how about a swanky bird feeder. It’s very easy to make. All they will need is a clean plastic drinks bottle or milk jug, some scissors and strong string to hang it up.
Begin by getting them to cut a hole in the bottle roughly four inches (10cm) from the bottom. The hole needs to be circular or oval in shape and about three inches (8cm) wide. Now get them to poke holes in the bottom, so any rain that gets in can drain away. It goes without saying that young children will need to be supervised! Attach the string to the top of the bottle and fill the feeder with bird seed or nuts.
Hang the feeder up in a tree, off the ground so it’s clear of the neighbourhood cats. Now get them to record which birds pay a visit.
Sprout Kitchen Scraps
Did you know that many kitchen scraps will sprout into new plants if given a little water? This includes the tops of carrots, beetroot, pineapple and turnip, as well as the stumps of vegetables like celery and onions. Sit them in a saucer of water and watch them burst back into life.
Another fun project is to sprout an avocado stone. Take a washed stone then push in four toothpicks around the middle of stone like this. You want the pointiest end of the stone to face up – this is where the shoots will sprout from. Now use the toothpicks to rest the stone on a glass or jar. Top it up with water so the water reaches the bottom of the stone then pop it onto a warm, bright windowsill.
Top up the water every now and then so the bottom of the stone remains covered. The stone will sprouting within one to two weeks. Once it has grown into a sturdy seedling transplant it into a container of potting mix.
Play in the Garden
Exercising outdoors is beneficial for everyone, especially children. Get them bouncing, jumping, running, kicking a ball – just anything to expend at least a fraction of their boundless energy!
Revive some of the traditional childhood activities too. Daisy chains are always fun to make – though leave some flowers for the bees. Use wide, long blades of grass to make a honking noise, collect different leaves and flowers to press into an album, or build an outside den using blankets.
That should keep them busy for a while! Tell us how you’re keeping your children amused during the lockdown. Is your garden proving a handy outdoor classroom? Share what you’re up to in the comments section below.