02 Sep Garden Activities for Children
I decided to compile a set of activities for kids to do in the garden. During these periods of lockdown and home schooling (around Australia) I feel it is important to encourage kids to have some type of time spent outside. These activities are suitable for a range of age groups. Some may need more of your help than others. These activities could be completed in a garden, on a balcony, in a park and some on a sunny window sill. Try to use what you have if you can.
I would say my biggest tip is to just have a designated place where mess can happen in the garden, don’t be precious about too much mess and let the kids run wild, and have free range as long as they are safe and out of harms way.
Sow some seeds or plant out some plants
I love sowing seeds with kids so they can see how a plant grows. Sow them either in pots or in garden beds. Check what your seed requirements are and when to sow them. If the directions say you can directly sow the seed then you can sow the seeds exactly in the place where they will grow. These are probably the easiest seeds to grow. Some seeds will need to be grown in punnets first and then potted up. Once the true leaves shoot through you can prick them out, pot them up into individual pots and then once the temperature warms up and the plants are ready you can plant them out in to garden. These seeds that need to be potted on can be started early by growing them indoors first or you can build your own mini greenhouse (see below for tips on creating your own mini green house).
If you select to sow vegetables or herbs then you have the added bonus that the children can see how a seed goes from the garden to being an edible plant and even then being cooked and eaten
I would suggest trying salad leaves, lettuce leaf or a mesclun leaf mix, tomatoes, parsley, basil and chives. Growing flowers is also fun too as children can see the process of how they grow and then they can pick the flowers and put them in a vase indoors or even press them. I would suggest trying to grow Cosmos, Marigolds, Zinnia or Sun Flowers. This activity will also allow children to learn how to care and water for their plants which will be a daily task for them and you can build this in to their routine.
Build your own mini green house
Some seeds need to be grown in seedling trays before planting out and in some areas you will require some protection from frost to get them started in the early part of the season. You don’t need to have a green house set up to do this – one way you can do this is to plant the seeds out in trays or punnets where they can be contained within a larger plastic container with a lid. This combination will emulate the conditions of a green house. This can be as simple as trays or punnet sitting within a larger plastic container. The larger container needs to be of a manageable size so that is able to be lifted and moved. On a sunny day you can sit the whole container out in the sun, with the lid off to absorb the warmth of the sun rays. Then you can move this container inside during the evening when the conditions are not ideal. Alternatively store this container on a higher shelf or on top of the fridge so it can take full advantage of the rising heat as hot air rises. Heat mats could also be used in this process.
This is a great way to get a jump start on your summer crops and/ or your frost tender species. Once their true leaves (these are the leaves that grow after the first set of cotyledon leaves appear) start to develop you can prick them out and pot them up into individual pots. After the threat of frost is gone you can then plant them out into the garden or bigger pots.
A fairy garden or a dinosaur garden or a mixture of both is always a hit for nearly all ages. This can be created in the top of a wide pot, in a saucer from a pot or even just within a garden bed. There are many places online where you can actually buy the miniature models of fairy houses, toadstools, volcanos, trees and rocks. However you really can use what you have at home. We have used sticks and twigs that we have found in the garden to create mini tee pees, painted rocks, grouped different coloured pebbles together to form mini pathways and rivers and pieces of foliage and flowers to build pretty gardens for these whimsical creatures. Don’t just think on the ground level you could go vertical too with taller twigs. The kids could make mini flag poles or bunting or even hang branches of foliage around their fairy houses and dinosaur jungles.
You can even landscape your fantasy garden with shorter growing plants like ground covers, herbs and miniature grasses to green up the space. Landscape your fairy or dinosaur gardens with plants that the children can pick out for themselves.
Build a Fairy or Gnome Door
If your child has a magical imagination this will be right up their alley. You can purchase purpose made mini doors for fairies however this is a great craft activity to do where the children can create their own. I have used paddle pop stick here in our images. They are then stuck on to cardboard and then painted and decorated by our son. You can then have the fun of picking which tree in the garden or park to place the door at the base of. These mini doors are meant to be the entrances to little houses for gnomes or fairies or any other fantasy creature your child loves. Each day you can take a walk out to check on the mini doors. Kids can leave presents or letters for the fantasy creature or you can leave something there as a surprise for your child.
This is another product you can buy online that is purpose made however you could easily set up a collection of items that the children can use on a hunt for bugs. Use a jar or a container with a cover of cling wrap (with some holes poked through for air). Add in some old tweezers, small magnifying glass and maybe a notebook and pen for the kids to record what they collect. This activity will teach kids about pollinators and about which bugs they should and shouldn’t touch. I tend to encourage the collection of caterpillars, snails or slugs from the garden so we get the added bonus of reduced numbers of critters that will eat my plants. Earthworms are another good creature to collect however that one is a goody so placing them back in the garden the same day is best. Children love observing these creatures and their behaviour. See notes I’ve made under the insect hotels about ways of attracting some bugs to your garden
Garden Tool Kits
Set your Child up with garden gear so they have the right tools to help you in the garden. This can be kid sized implements or you can give them some old tools that you have. Things that would be suitable are small spade/ hand trowels/ garden fork, scoop and or a little watering can or a water spray bottle. Have them in a bucket ready for them to pick up when you grab your tools to work in the garden. I would recommend trying to get them gloves in the correct size as ideally gloves are needed when handling potting mixes and they will protect kids from spiky plants and any bugs that bite.
Encourage Kids to get their hands dirty
Do you ever remember making mud pies when you were child? I remember doing this and we also created the best racetracks for cars and scooters where we just dug for days. We were able to excavate out a patch of bare earth that we had on one side of the garden and another time we had an extension happening on the house where the builder had excavated out the hillside so we had piles and piles of fill to dig through. Obviously you can’t destroy your total garden but maybe there is a designated area where the kids can dig through the soil, make mud pies and mud castles, they can create tunnels and a bit of fossicking will be allowed.
Create artwork with findings from nature
Give the child a basket or container to wander through your garden or any outdoor space and collect leaves, sticks, pebbles, bark, flowers, buds whatever they want. They can then use these treasures to create a mixed media collage by sticking things on paper. They could make a botanical master piece. You could give them tracing paper or baking paper where they can shade across the shape of the collected items to pick up the silhouette of these foraged goods.
Have you ever shaded a leaf?
It is amazing to see how much of the leaf margin and venation is picked up by simply shading over the top of it.
You could paint over the top of leaves, change their colour. Collect rocks and bark to paint them to be a family of rocks or little symbols to leave in the garden.
You could use these rocks or other materials to make a sculpture in the garden.
Pressing flowers and foliage
This is a craft activity that I loved to when I was a kid. It involves a number of steps that will keep the kids interested and motivated to see what happens. First you need to collect flowers or foliage to press. Ideally the best specimens to collect have thinner stems and more papery less succulent foliage. You can then place your specimens in a flower press. These will need to be left there for a few weeks to press and dry. One Australian company that sells lovely flower presses for kids and adults is “Sow n Sow”. They have an informative video of how to press flowers to. Click here to view. Pressed flowers and foliage is another artform in itself. You can use the pressed specimens to stick on to greetings card, tags, bookmarks or even artwork
Egg heads for seeds like water cress
This is a simple task that can be done indoors and you can set the seeded egg head up on a sunny window sill or outside. Keep the broken half eggshells from your next omelette, allow your children to decorate with a face or a pattern. Poke a small hole in the base of each half. Place your eggshell half in egg cup or on the top of a empty toilet paper holder, then fill with soil and spread some seed such as water cress or chives in the soil. Lightly water regular, leave in a sunny spot and wait for the fluffy hair top to grow. We are doing this at home so stay tune for the finished product.
Give the children a basket or container and a list of things to find in garden like a treasure hunt – it could be list that includes a particular flower, a particular shaped leaf, a rock, a stick, a bug etc They could follow the list to collect these items or photograph them with a device as they see them. Make it a game with a reward for the winner.
Create a free play area for the kids
This could include a spot for a picnic, an area for them to climb on this can be as simple as a few old stumps placed in key locations where they can climb or jump across to as stepping stones through the space. You could add in a rope swing between trees or a hammock for a place to chill out in. Add in some areas where you can hold a little bit of water, create bridges over these spots. Let them run wild with their imaginations.
Construct a tee pee or cubby house or sunflower tunnel or a conversation circle.
This might be one for slightly older children. Encourage kids to build a structure in the garden for them to use in their outdoor play. These could be developed with lots of long sticks or branches to form a tee pee or old blankets to give them shelter. You could aim to grow a living tunnel. Sunflowers are a great species to do this with as they have woody stems that are still flexible. Plant out sunflower seeds in two rows with a gap between the rows of about 80 cm – 1 metre.
With the sunflowers you may need to use stakes and string as supports. Eventually once the plants are fully grown you can start to bend the top set of leaves in each row towards each other. They will form a tunnel with their foliage and the flowers will sit out on top. A conversation circle could be built with a number of pieces of trunks or larger rocks used as seating. Creating these areas or enclosures will give children a sense of places and they can be used to be a meeting place with siblings and friends. This could the spot where they have a picnic meal in the garden, they could take their toys outside for games or be a secluded space to read books in or provide a meeting place for friends.
Build an insect house/bee hotel (Bee B and B) or wildlife stacks
With the loss of habitat throughout the world our pollinator species are struggling. Creating a structure where pollinators such as native bees, honey bees as well as other insects can find a home is a good way of helping your local environment. These structures will give them places to live, lay their egg and also to hibernate in the cooler seasons. These need to have some form or framework around them it could be on the smaller side like an old timber fruit box or on the larger side like an old set of drawers. You can pack the gaps with different natural materials they just need to fill the space but also be able to create gaps, tunnels and holes between them. Using pieces of hollow bamboo stakes, pieces of timber, chunks of bark, sticks, twigs, cuttings of branches and then fill the larger spaces with rocks, chunks of brick, broken terracotta pots or even rocks. If you want to keep it a bit more simply you could even use a stack of broken terracotta pots wedged together so they have sense of enclosure. It is also good to have a place where these pollinators can access water on the warmer days so having a saucer of water in the garden is a good idea. Make a routine of checking these insect hiding spots with your kids so they see what is using them for their home.
Hope these ideas give you some inspiration and help with managing children at home.
PLEASE NOTE- When dealing with any potting mix, mulches or even just soil and creatures make sure you get the kids to wash hands thoroughly once finished. Soil born disease and fungus is a very real so it’s always best to be on the safe side.