A windowsill, some flowerpots on a balcony, a yard, a garden or a sprawling estate are all areas where precious moments can be spent gardening with grandchildren, regardless of their age. Imagine the smile on their faces, the happiness in their eyes and the dirt on their hands as they encounter nature. Children have a natural curiosity about every plant and living creature, and gardening is a wonderful activity to enrich their interest.
Gardening with grandchildren is an opportunity to talk about nature’s beauty, to work together, to develop strong bonds, to make lasting memories and to build a unique relationship with Mother Nature. It’s great exercise for all parties: walking, bending and stretching; and a natural form of relaxation that can’t be found sitting in front of a TV or a computer. Spending time and energy in a natural way helps everyone stay healthy, slim and fit and have fun together.
Studies show that through gardening, children can be taught values such as love for nature, respect for all creatures, social skills, responsibility, patience and the ability to make healthy food choices.
Cultivate a grandchild’s love for gardening
Children like grasping the hose or watering can and flooding the plants! Teach them how to do it, and they will love the job. Let them choose some seeds or bulbs of flowers and vegetables to plant, but direct them to those that succeed easier and produce flowers and fruits faster because children love seeing the result of their labour quickly. Suitable plants are lettuce, strawberries, radishes, cucumbers, pumpkins and sunflowers. Let them have fun transplanting plants, but explain that plants’ roots take some time to adapt to a new environment.
Allow children to be responsible for their plants: to plant, water and weed them and to understand that if they take good care of them, later they can pick flowers and vegetables. However, explain that sometimes the plants may die due to some reason like disease. In this way, they will learn to accept loss. Go together to buy some tools such as a watering can, a small rake and a small shovel. For young children, the tools should be plastic.
Talk to them about the life cycles of plants or tell them stories about each flower or vegetable. Show them the insects that visit their plants and explain their role in the production of fruits. Talk to them about the beneficial insects and say that even the destructive ones can be interesting. They’ll be excited to share with their friends what they have learned about gardening with their grandparents.
Let them give a special name to a tree that can be their own. They have to water it and when the time comes, they can offer its fruit to their friends explaining how they took care of it. They will feel proud of themselves when they say, “I did it myself!”
Above all, praise their flowers and let them know how well they’ve taken care of them; it will lead to a good gardening experience. Lead by example, keep personal plants healthy or the wrong message may be sent. Respect grandchildren’s limits; the intention is to inspire love for gardening and not obligation or boredom.
Children’s favourite plants
Children love big and impressive flowers like sunflowers, but small vegetables and fruits such as tiny tomatoes and strawberries usually attract them. Pumpkin varieties with various and fun sizes and shapes, as well as cucumbers, attract them too. However, keep in mind that big flowers and vegetables need plenty of room while the small ones can be planted in pots, tubs or barrels. Children also like fragrant plants like basil, lavender, parsley, roses and scented geraniums. Show them purple or white carrots and radishes in various colours, and they will be fascinated.
3-4 years old: Children love to imitate their elders. Give them plastic tools to help. Tell them tales about fairies that live under a small vegetable or inside a flower. Attract their attention to creatures that live in the garden such as bees, butterflies, worms, snails and toads. In a playful way, help them recognize the colours, the flowers, and the vegetables. Play “guess the plant” game. Press a fragrant leaf, let them smell it and say its name. Ask them to close their eyes and do the same. They have to guess the name of the leaf by recognizing its smell. Reward them with a fruit or a flower.
5-7 years old: Let them plant seeds and bulbs: water the flowers, pull weeds, rake and pick vegetables, fruits and flowers. At this age, children start reading and they can read seed packets, write the name of a plant on a plant marker and calculate how much the flowers will cost. They can carve their name in the rind of a growing pumpkin and watch the change in their name as the pumpkin grows. Tell stories to them about the life cycle of plants. Watch together the creatures that live in the garden, and teach them how to recognize the signs they leave behind.
8-9 years old: They are more skilled at using garden tools. Give them a big flowerpot or a small area of garden and let them decide on the design and what to plant; teach them how to build a small fence around their plot. Give them the responsibility to take care of their plants. Ask them to help pick vegetables, to wash them carefully and, with help, prepare their food.
10-12 years old: Apart from the usual jobs, they can complete tasks that are more sophisticated. If a big garden is available, help them build a tree house, fort or secret place. If it’s a small space, they can build bird feeders. They can plan theme gardens such as gardens with fragrant plants. Give them a camera to take pictures of their garden, so they can document the stages of their plants’ growth.
Let imagination and love for grandchildren guide the gardening experience and they will learn to love it as much as their grandparent.
FEBRUARY 2012 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND