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How to get pre-schoolers gardening

I wholeheartedly believe that a bit of dirt under the fingernails of a three year old is a very Good Thing. So long as it has got there through getting their hands deep down in the earth in the name of gardening, rather than just not washing their hands, which is a bit gross.

Personally I love gardening, well I say that, what I mean is that I enjoy being outside and getting the natural high from the creative pursuit of making the garden look nice. There’s something rather primal about digging the earth, planting flowers or veggies and knowing that the hard toil, backache and chapped lips that follow will be worth it. I’m not a particularly green fingered sort of person but I do love getting outside and getting creative with what nature has given us. It gives me great satisfaction at the end of a day.

I thought that this would be a nice thing to engage my girls in, they are little, aged almost two and three and half, so it was possibly ambitious. But I was determined that we’d spend a lovely day outdoors, pottering about in the garden. First we trotted off to the garden centre. There are two very good ones in our part of East Surrey, The Ashtead Park Garden Centre and The Chessington Garden Centre.  Clearly they both provide plants, they’d be pretty useless garden centres if they didn’t, but they also provide a pretty good hour of so of fun for little ones.

Both have a lovely cafe that is kid friendly, Ashtead is slightly better with lots of space, high chairs, special kids menus, LOVELY ice-cream (for the kids you understand) and no frowning faces when the children start creating.  Ashtead also has a lovely outdoors section with a real old gypsy caravan that the children can go into.

Chessington has an added bonus. The Aquatics centre.  Now this really is brilliant.  Loads of tanks at toddler height with a fantastic mix of brightly coloured fish of all shapes and sizes. My girls were fascinated by the Goldfish (bless ’em) let alone the Clown fish and the huge Carp and Koi. The staff are incredibly good natured and friendly and are obviously quite used to mothers like me smiling inanely at the relief of the little ones having such fun for absolutely nothing.

So that brings me back to the point of this post.

Some tips for getting them involved in gardening:

– make the whole process fun. This is done best by pretending you are Mr Bloom from CBeebies and talking in a very over-excited voice about everything you are doing. Look we are digging the soil! Gosh look there’s a worm! Wow a ladybird!

– find a garden centre which is actually fun for them, with a large variety of plants that the children can look at and explore. They love telling you what colours things are in general and plants are brilliant for that.

– buy plants that are already in bloom. Toddlers have very little sense of time and having to wait for something to bloom is more than they can bear.

– let them tip the plant out of the pot. A slightly technical point here but make sure you stand the pot in water first so it comes out of the pot easily – important for a toddler, but also so that it takes well to it’s new home.

– don’t worry about gardening gloves for little ones. Honestly they are more trouble than they are worth. Just let them get some dirt on their hands. As long as they wash them there’s no harm done.

– keep the whole process quick-ish and fun. It may only take 1/2 hour to plant some bedding plants, but that’s enough. Don’t bore them with it or they’ll not want to do it again.

– finally if you can give them their own little bed or pot or window box, they’ll love that it’s theirs and can take pride in looking after the flowers.

In a month or so I’ll plant some veggies, right now we may still get another frost which will just kill them but there are plenty of bedding plants that you can get in now.  Things like violas, pansies and marigolds are good for children, they are bright and, it sounds silly but they look like flowers are meant to look. I also love sweet peas for children. They are my favourite flower but you can also make lovely teepees with sticks you find in the garden for them to grow up. The children will love watching them grow and flower – and they grow quickly which is important!

Long may this lovely weather continue and hopefully you can get your children interested in gardening soon.

Written by Holly

One Comment

  1. Children love playing with dirt, so gardening is a great way they can play with dirt and at the same time learn about how things grow.

    Currently at work (I’m a nanny – children aged 5mths, 3yrs and 6yrs) we have planted Strawberry plants which having now been in a couple of weeks are not showing signs of being dead… so looks like we may get a crop later. Obtained the plants for free from my mums garden (the older two children helped me pull them out of the ground) as strawberry plants spread out over time. So if you know anyone with strawberry plants, ask them if you can have a few.

    Garden centres are great to visit with young children – lots to look at, smell and taste (in the cafe).
    Some garden centres run events for children during school holidays. Secrets in Milford, Surrey has a treasure hunt this Easter.

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