As we face another 3 weeks of lockdown due to COVID 19 we’re sure many parents are looking for ideas to keep kids active and amused.
With good weather and longer days just around the corner, getting them out in the garden and engaged with nature is not just good for their physical and mental well-being. They could also learn a thing or two too. (A bonus for home schooling parents).
Grow from seed
Planting vegetables, herbs and annuals delivers quick results for very little effort. And there are plenty of websites offering a wide variety of seeds for sale.
You can get kids involved from start to finish and learning as they go. From choosing the seeds they’d like to grow (planning ahead for what they want to eat or see in the garden), to preparing seed beds and pots (understanding what seeds need in order to grow), to counting out the seeds and measuring how deep and far apart they need to be planted.
The whole process of cultivating crops helps children develop a healthy attitude to responsibility and accountability when looking after their plants. As well as learning about nature (the role of pollinators and pests), plants and the germination process, the nutritional content of vegetables and how weather conditions affect growth.
Who knows, as a result they might even be more encouraged to eat their greens!
The best vegetables to grow in May include carrots, beetroot and cucumbers. The best flowering seed for May is the sunflower. This seed germinates in as little as 7 days so children can see their efforts rewarded quickly.
A few of our favourite online seed suppliers for herbs, vegetables and annuals:
Time for art classes outside. Give your kids the permission to unleash their inner Van Gogh or Banksy as they cheer up your garden with creative projects.
This might be perking up old pots with paint and decoration. Dig out your old, tired pots, give them a wash and let the kids lose with a paint brush. Acrylic paint or a 50:50 mix of ready-mix paint and PVA glue is best. They could even add stickers, glitter, fabric or coloured gems. A great way to use their imaginations!
You could go one step further and allow a side of a shed or boring patch of wall or fence to be decorated with a mural. Braver parents might be prepared to let budding Picasso’s free style it out with a tin of paint and a paint brush. If you’re a bit more wary about the outcome, you could encourage them to create a mini painting or sketch of what they want to produce first. Remember that any disasters can always be painted over and started again. Or hand out the chalks instead of paint so art projects can be photographed before being easily washed away.
Another good idea is to create collages from bits and pieces found around the garden. Whether this is cuttings from trees and shrubs, empty snail shells, stones, leaves or flowers, little artists can create self-portraits, a holiday landscape or an image from their favourite book or film.
Recycle and reuse
Tips are closed and old bits and bobs are starting to stack up around the home. Rather than earmark these for the bin, some of them can be reused into useful pieces of garden kit.
Old plastic bottles, mop buckets, washing up bowls, welly boots, tyres and guttering can be given a new lease of life as a planter. Simply make a few holes in the base for drainage, add soil and get planting. It’s also a bit of fun to hang some of your newly created plant pots on a fence for an added bit of garden cheer.
Old bits of wood, straw, bricks and bamboo can also be turned into the ideal residence for garden creepy crawlies. We covered how to make a bug hotel in one of our previous blogs.
Recycling materials as garden sculptures is also bang on trend in the world of landscaping and is a regular feature at the likes of Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Shows. If any ideas and inspiration are needed, head on over to Pinterest where you’ll find loads of examples of what to make, with whatever you’ve got lying around at home.
There’s something a little bit magical about taking old kitchen and garden scraps and turning it into nutrient rich compost. For any child who loves nothing more than mucking around with mud, then a composting project is sure to appeal to them.
To get started you can either use a ready to go plastic compost bin that are readily available (larger ones are better for making good compost). Alternatively, if you have the space, you can construct your own series of compost bins that allow for you to turn and add to your compost at a steady rate.
Compost bins are best placed on top of earth to allow soil organisms to get in and do their thing in helping convert your waste into a nutrient rich soil improver. It’s still ok to place a compost bin on a hard surface, just remember to add a spade or two of soil before adding:
- Green waste (this should make up 25% to 50% of your compost) such as grass clippings, annual weeds, fruit and vegetables, uncooked kitchen waste (not meat) and pet bedding (such as hay or straw).
- Brown waste such as garden prunings, hedge trimmings (shredding these first helps them to break down in the composts), woodchip, leaves, paper and card, straw and plant stems.
Remember to turn your compost (stir the potion) every so often as this plays an important part in helping air get in and moving the composting process along.
For more information on composting the RHS has useful advice for beginners on their website.
Meet your local wildlife
With quieter roads and skies, we’ve all started to notice the wildlife visiting our gardens. Encouraging and appreciating this wildlife is certainly something that not only lifts spirits but can enthral children young and old as they get to know their regular garden visitors. Whether this is through a garden bug safari, a back garden wildlife photography competition with their siblings, or monitoring who visits the garden and finding out more about how to look after them.
With Spring in the air there is no better time than now when we can all give our local wildlife a helping hand in building nests and raising young. Here are just a few ways we can help them:
Keeping a well-stocked bird feeder will encourage a wide range of birds into your garden. To entice the widest variety of birds, use a range of feeds. But because this is the time when birds are feeding their young choose nut and seed mixes that have quibbled (smaller) pieces that are easier for their young to eat. Mixes with mealworms will entice in robins. Blackbirds like dried fruit. Be aware that some of these mixes with dried fruit can be dangerous to pets. Raisins in particular are poisonous to dogs and cats. Specialist hedgehog food is also available if you’re lucky enough to have a prickly visitor to your garden. Avoid giving them bread and milk as this gives them upset tummies.
Introducing a pond or small water feature into the garden is one of the best ways to bring in wildlife. Not only will residents such as frogs, newts and pond skaters move in, but birds will use it to wash their feathers and hedgehogs to have a drink. If you’re making a pond remember to create a shallow sloping area at one end to allow safe access in and out of the water.
All wildlife needs somewhere quiet to shelter, nest and sleep. From the smallest creepy crawly to feathered friends and snuffling hedgehogs. Whilst many will search out quiet nooks and crannies in your garden kids can also get involved with building suitable accommodation. From bug houses, to hedgehog houses and nesting boxes for birds.
Planting a few careful choices of garden flowers will bring bees and butterflies aplenty to your garden. Lavender, scabious, cosmos, salvias, verbena bonariensis, foxgloves, buddleia, sedum and hebes are all good choices for providing a floral feast that will attract these colourful characters.
A few do’s and don’t’s:
- Be careful when tidying your garden not to disturb nests or sleeping animals.
- If putting out food for wildlife remember to place it carefully where pets can’t reach it (or the wildlife!).
- Avoid using anything in the garden that could potentially poison your wild visitors such as slug pellets and weed killers.
For more advice on encouraging and looking after your garden wildlife have a look at:
Pocket money tasks
Let’s face it. We all have those garden tasks that we aren’t so keen on. Weeding, mowing, tidying, sweeping. So why not get the kids to do these instead whilst earning a bit of money?
Draw up a list of tasks, along with how much you’re willing to fork out in return – it could be a monetary reward, or a choice of treat (a film, a book, a takeaway, sweets). Stick it to the fridge and let them know that it exists.
Not only do you get your tasks done, but they learn the value of money by working towards a reward.
Share your garden successes
We hope these ideas prove helpful in coping with the weeks ahead. If you’ve got any of your own that you’d like to share with other parents, please feel free to get in touch and let us know. Or to share them on our Facebook and Instagram page. We’d love to hear and see what you’ve been up to.