Hands up if you have had great plans to sow or plant lots of new things or really make time to garden with your kids but can’t find the time or just can’t keep on top of all the gardening chores to get to the fun bits? Glossy images on social media of doting parents and grandparents having fun while gardening with kids just add to the feeling that you are not doing things the right way.
My hand is raised! From my personal experience, many of those images were probably a small snapshot in time and some of the kids were potentially just interested in gardening for about 5 minutes preceded and followed by tantrums, drama and for older ones the dreaded sentence ‘I’m bored!’. However, even with that knowledge, when the plans in my head don’t match reality, I feel disappointed with myself and as an advocate for children’s gardening I can’t help but think that I am letting my daughters down.
As a working parent with two still fairly young children I often struggle to find time to care for our garden as well as helping and supporting my daughters in their own gardening journey. Most of our days are spent working (for me) and at school (for them), which means that the only time available for gardening is after school and the weekends. A lot of our ‘free’ time is spent on ferrying the girls to their weekly after-school activities and sports, trying to keep on top of things and spending some family time together going on walks and adventures. Although we all love gardening and really enjoy spending time in the garden, it just seems like there is limited time in our normal schedule to properly care for it as well as teaching our daughters how to garden and allowing them to experience the joy of caring for plants. In addition to that, children’s short attention span is not always conducive to many gardening activities.
In light of this, I have recently purchased a book called ‘The five minute garden’ by Laetitia Maklouf with the hope that I might be able to get some good tips on how we can incorporate gardening into our busy everyday life as well as maintaining my daughters short attention span. It is a really interesting read and I am looking into how to apply the advice/structure suggested by the author. More importantly it has made think about how to include gardening with the girls in their everyday without needing to take out large chunks of our days when time is limited.
So here are my thoughts and suggestions for anyone that has struggled to fit gardening with children into their everyday life while also keeping the kids engaged.
Have things ready to be used
This is one of the suggestions put forward in the book and I think it is really relevant for when gardening with children. This is my personal downfall! Time and time again I find myself turning the shed upside down to find seeds or gloves or even just a bucket while my daughter’s excitement at doing gardening with mummy slowly fades and the ball, that rolls out of the shed as I am immersed in finding things, becomes a far more interesting proposition. Have key things like watering cans, seeds, trowels, gloves, compost , scissors/secateurs and pots all ready to go for when you need them. No faffing around means more time actually gardening and a lower chance of losing the interest of kids. If you don’t have everything at hand maybe you can at least have a child-appropriate watering can always ready as using it seems to be the most fun part of gardening for many kids.
Divide jobs into smaller chunks
Dividing the work into smaller bitesize chunks is really what the book is about for me, but in the case of gardening with children I think it is even more important. When gardening on my own I tend to do ‘marathon’ gardening sessions and I don’t think that this is a very productive and enjoyable way of doing things as well as being impossible to achieve in the presence of my children. If I understand it correctly, the book suggests subdividing gardening jobs into types of activities and allocate a day of the week (5 minutes of that day) to each of them plus having a day where you maybe spend more time on a ‘project’ or larger job that needs to be tackled. Although it is unlikely that I’d be able to garden with the girls every day of the week, perhaps I could apply this approach to those days when we do get to do gardening. So what child-friendly gardening activity takes 5 minutes if things were ready to be used (see first point)?
- Sowing one or two types of seeds with plenty of time left within the 5 minutes for kids to practice writing the names of seeds or even hold and observe the seed before putting it in the soil.
- Deadheading is a simple activity for any child old enough to handle scissors and where possible heads with seeds for the next season can be kept aside for another day.
- Save seeds from deadheading by removing the seeds from a couple of the flower heads picked off on another day and place them in a paper envelope. They might even have time to draw on the envelope or just write the name of the flower/plant.
- Watering is a favourite amongst children usually so you might find that setting a 5 minutes limit might stop them from drowning the plants in water! This is also an activity that can be undertaken indoors if the weather is abdominal.
- Repotting on a small scale can easily be done by a child (with adult help if they are young) in 5 minutes, the key is to only have 1 or 2 plants to repot and having everything at hand to complete the job.
- Although not on the list of kid’s favourites, a little spot of weeding could be nicely fitted in 5 minutes and might actually make it more enjoyable as they will know that they are being asked to do it just for a short period of time.
- Learning about specific plants, their names, how to care for them and when, or learning about insects, birds and minibeasts that share our gardens might not be a regular adult gardening activity but should definitely be seen as an important step in children’s ones. For those in school age, writing a little journal with their discoveries could easily be achieved in a short session and for those that can’t write yet, drawing what they see and learning to give it a name is also something that doesn’t take long.
Make it fun and let them choose
Having the kids involved while planning the activities is crucial and if there are a number of sub-activities to choose from they could decide which one they prefer doing on that particular day. If together you set 3 activities to do every week you could create a little reward chart and everytime an activity has been met a star is added. Eventually when a certain number of stars is met a reward could be offered, the rewards does not necessarily have to be garden related but something that the kids value and are prepared to work for. For older children, a bit of healthy siblings competition might make it more interesting when tackling jobs like deadheading or weeding. Ultimately, if the activity is approached as fun it will feel like a game rather than a chore.
I am looking forward to test this approach myself with my two girls hoping that it will make it easier to find time to care for our garden as well as fulfilling my dreams of raising the new generation of confident and happy gardeners.
Do you have a technique that helps you finding time to do gardening with your children or grandchildren on regular basis (or everyday)? I’d love to hear all about it so feel free to share it with us.