I find the really difficult bit is getting them to move from this stage of general mayhem into something more focused and productive. There are a few pointers which can help.
- Give them the interesting jobs– if you spend some time planning what you are going to do, and preparing, you can make sure you give them the fun jobs to do – they’ll be bored in a millisecond if they have to wait around
- Keep it short and sweet – the younger the child, the shorter your gardening activity should be. I find 15-20 minutes of concentration is about all I can expect from my children in one go
- Give them the best spot – if you have the space, try to give your children their own patch to garden – and remember it’s quality not quantity. 1.5m2 is large enough to get them started but make sure it’s a good spot with decent soil and enough sun. If things don’t grow, they’ll feel disillusioned with gardening before they’ve really started
- Grow something to eat– children are so proud and excited to think their efforts have actually produced food. I also find they’re more likely to try vegetables if they’ve grown them.
- Provide some instant gratification – children are impatient and, while it’s important that they learn to grow from seeds, it’s also a good idea to invest in one or two pot-grown plants, so they can see an immediate impact when they’re planted. It’s also good to take them to a garden centre and let them choose something themselves (with a little guidance) – this gives them responsibility and means they’re more likely to remember to water it
- Keep up their enthusiasm – there will be days, weeks and even months when it just won’t be possible to get into the garden. Don’t let the children lose all interest. Create a gardening calendar or scrapbook with them, make some plant labels or seed packets, create a scarecrow – anything that keeps them thinking gardening is fun
- The right tools and clothes – assign your children some gardening clothes – they could even customise their own t-shirts, trousers or hats with some fabric pens. Also invest in some decent child-sized tools (the cheap and colourful ones sold in most places are so badly made and weak they’re as good as useless).
- Let them get on with it – your child’s patch might not look beautiful to you, but if they’re using it and enjoying it, try not to interfere.
Sadly, I don’t always practice what I preach – particularly when my children’s ‘bold’ plant choices threaten my poncey designer planting schemes. But I’m getting better… slowly.