(This article first appeared in Kingston Neighbours magazine, July, 2021)
As Ella Fitzgerald once sang, “Summertime and the livin’ is easy!”
Is it though? The kids have finished virtual schooling now, some of us are returning to the workplace for the first time in months and some of us are still working from home. While many stores and summer camps are opening up, some COVID restrictions are still in place. We’re in a state of flux. Against this backdrop, how can we keep our kids meaningfully engaged and learning all summer?
I offer one simple suggestion for all ages and stages: gardening.
My kids and I have long been avid gardeners. Please note I did not say always-successful gardeners! We have lost many a plant over the years, perhaps most notably to our backyard wildlife, (I’m looking in your direction, bunnies!), who have unfortunately loved our plants as much as we did.
However, we have also learned so much and spent many happy hours digging in dirt, watering our flowers, observing the birds, bees, worms and snails in our garden, and harvesting many vegetables and herbs. No matter how small our backyard, we’ve always been able to garden. You can too!
Two books which I picked up from the public library this year for more gardening ideas are The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids: 101 Ways to Get Kids Outside, Dirty and Having Fun by Whitney Cohen and John Fisher and Kids’ Container Gardening: Year-Round Projects for Inside and Out by Cindy Krezel. Both books are filled with easy gardening activities and crafts for kids of all ages.
The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids emphasizes how to create a safe, play-friendly garden and backyard, with many suggestions including:
- A fairy garden or toy dinosaur garden (What about a LEGO garden?!)
- A place to relax (and read!) like a bench or hammock
- Places to hide
- Plants to graze on, like baby tomatoes
- Tools to measure weather, like a rain gauge or wind sock
Cohen and Fisher’s book also includes activities like analyzing soil and concocting homemade insect repellent. My kids were especially intrigued by their suggestion to make homemade tea bags using herbs from our garden!
Krezel’s book, Kids’ Container Gardening, also has more than a dozen ideas for growing plants in small spaces. My favourites include building a butterfly garden in an old tire and creating a living salad bowl of lettuce.
These gardening ideas will get kids engaging their five senses and asking questions about the natural world. Apart from developing scientific inquiry, a research summary from Cornell University indicates gardening also:
- Improves fine motor skills
- Promotes responsibility, organization and patience
- Encourages healthy eating
- Relieves stress and increases relaxation
- Fosters overall positive mental well-being
Gardening clearly has many benefits, not the least of which might be keeping your kids occupied while you have to attend yet another virtual work meeting. But who knows, maybe after work you can join your kids in the garden for some summertime relaxation!