Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Green fingered babies

 These images cycled round on our digital photo frame today and it got me thinking about how much my little ones have enjoyed all their experiences with gardens and with growing things themselves.  Ollie is about 18 months old here.  We used to have a small pond in this barrel, originally with some fish in (until my otherwise lovely neighbour moved in with her four cats).  When Ollie started climbing into everything however we went babyproofing mad and decided that even a small pond was too dangerous an attraction for him, so we turned it into a planter by drilling holes in it and filling it with compost.

Almost immediately Ollie climbed in, and spent a contented afternoon feeling the texture of the soil with his hands and digging out an assortment of minibeasts to show me.  I was proud of how gently my little lad held those worms, snails, woodlice and spiders.  This is a delight his little brother at 16 months is now copying due to the kind provision of a soil play table at our playgroup, as well as our own plant troughs and pots.

I have always loved growing things myself, so it has been with great pleasure that I've discovered how great an affinity my small people, and small people in general, have for gardening.  According to Countryfile recently, a huge slice of our national economy depends on horticultural expertise, from gardeners to compost specialists, and plant pathogen scientists to market gardeners.  So it is a great shame that, also according to the same show, we are heading into a staffing crisis where the existing horticulturalists are aging, and fewer and fewer youngsters are entering horticultural professions.

Schools are dependent in part on the constraints of the National Curriculum, which is set by central government.  Virtually all of the botany and plant science has been removed from the curriculum over time by ministers who don't understand the value of it.  Some schools have fought back by engaging students in gardening projects and even school farms, but as with most areas of life, a real passion for the subject is ready to be awakened in children with a little help from their own families.

There are lots of great resources available for encouraging children into the garden, including child-sized gardening tools, gloves and cute packets of easy to grow seeds.  This website http://www.gardenhealth.com/plant-care-and-propagation/projects/how-to-grow-seeds-with-kids has great hints and practical guides to getting started.  Growing sunflower seeds is one of the most rewarding activities you can do with your little grower because there are so many opportunities to go cross-curricular in your approach.  When planting the seed you can set it up as an experiment where they can draw their seed and predict what they think might happen to it if it gets all the things it needs.  From there you can talk about what makes things alive, and what things that are alive need, and how they differ between animals and plants.  As the seed grows you can help your child to measure out the amount of water they are going to give it, and also measure and draw the plant at intervals.  This leads to discussions about how living things change, including how your child is growing, how they were different as a baby, what they'll be like later on.  Ollie really likes his 'experiments' and for a really inquisitive child you could look at keeping your seedlings in different conditions and seeing which grow best - a tallest sunflower competition between the back of your house and the front perhaps.

This website also has instructions for growing a really fun courgette 'eight ball' and even a variety of corn that will make popcorn!  We've grown both courgettes and sweetcorn before and have had good success rates with both.  The courgettes we grew tended to glut though, so I'd definitely be interested in a plant that would grow smaller, child sized courgettes.    I've read really good reviews about the popcorn plant in the past too, so that sounds like a great project to try this year.  The best thing is that all of these plants are robust, non-toxic and can be grown in pots, which is a must with our limited space and two active little lads who still like to put everything in their mouths.  I have an idea for a planter with a sweetcorn in the rear, a courgette in the front, and the miniature sunflower seeds we sowed last week providing colour to one side, with Swiss Chard Rainbow Lights to the other.  Progress report to follow :)

Disclaimer -  this post was sponsored, but views, opinions and experiences of mucky toddlers and wiggly minibeasts are all mine