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Each month, you'll be able to get answers directly from experts covering a wide range of parenting topics. You'll also have a chance to share your own expert tips with other parents. Join the conversation!

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Bringing the Joy of the Garden to Children

by Jamie Durie


Jamie Durie

Jamie Durie is a horticulturist, landscape designer and host of PBS's The Victory Garden. Read more »

Sorry, Jamie Durie is no longer taking questions.

When I was a kid, my parents found it impossible to make me sit still. Every waking hour, when I wasn't at school, was spent building cubbyhouses, digging, catching insects, playing hide-and-seek in the bush, or burning my name into a piece of wood with a magnifying glass. I had an extremely active imagination, an insatiable urge to create things, and a sense of curiosity that quite often got my fingers burnt.

Come to think of it, not much has changed! Only now, life has been filled with a whole new realm of responsibility. Responsibility builds self esteem, can create pride and forms character -- but looking back now, I've realized it's just as important to embrace the child within for as long as possible.

As soon as children are old enough to explore and discover things on their own, a new chapter of their life opens up -- and usually while we're not looking! They're making their own choices about what they touch, feel and experience and their imagination and creativity begins to grow naturally. Without even knowing it, their motor skills are improving, their common sense is building, and they're learning more about nature and how the world works. They're having fun and they can't get enough of it.

The more opportunities and experiences we present them with, the faster they'll learn and grow, and we'll help them become the happy, thriving, well-rounded kids they were born to be.

Our children and our children's children are the guardians of our planet. We have a responsibility to teach our children how to listen to Mother Nature breathing, because whether we like it or not, we're part of the ecosystem. As the seasons change, temperature and humidity goes up or down and the sun shines on our bodies for more or less of the day. All of these things affect us in different ways. If we can help our kids understand why the leaves are falling, why the creatures are hibernating, why the flowers are blooming, then they'll be more interested in their surroundings, and more conscious of the environment.  And most importantly, we need to tread lightly, because every time Mother Nature breathes out, we breathe in. The more our children understand our connection to the earth and its natural rhythms, the better equipped they'll be for the future.

In my day there were no computer games, and it was a privilege to watch TV when my parents allowed it. So we were forced to improvise. Everything in the backyard became the most enthralling, natural fun that ever existed. And without even being asked to play outside, there was really no better choice. I would get lost for days just looking for the right shaped stick for my next project. And today I'm still searching for the right shapes, some in plant form, some in structure, and I've been lucky enough to build a career out of it. But I wonder, would I be on this path today if I'd spent my entire childhood staring at a computer game? And of course, now I have my own child. She's bright, beautiful, opinionated, funny, and she just loves pottering around in the garden with Dad. I've come to cherish this time we have together.

I felt so passionately about kids and nature that I wrote a book about it -- Outdoor Kids. It's not just for gardeners but also for parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, caregivers -- anyone who wants to spend quality time with kids outdoors. There's a strong theme of conservation and sustainability throughout mixed in with a whole lot of fun but mostly it's about spending precious quality time with your kids, which I think, in this day and age, is a priority and the most valuable gift of all.

Life is busy and it's easy to keep putting this time at the end of our never-ending "lists of things to do," but time outside in the fresh air with the people we cherish the most is actually most likely the very thing we'll remember when we look back on our lives. And at the same time we're instilling a sense of responsibility in our kids to take care of our planet. What kind of projects have you done with your kids? And how do you prioritize your time to make it happen?

Jamie Durie's Tips for Gardening with Kids

  • If you have the space, create meandering pathways, stepping stones, nooks or mazes. They're lots of fun to hide in or explore.
  • Wind chimes and running water will introduce peaceful sounds into the garden to heighten the senses. Feature running water kids can splash their hands in and safely enjoy.
  • Sandpits or areas where kids can be active and get their hands dirty are always fun.
  • Planting veggies and herbs with your kids is not only a great way to get them involved, but you'll be surprised how interested they are in eating food they've grown themselves.
  • Try to plant native plants that will attract native animals into the garden. Being able to watch a butterfly lazily fluttering around the flowers, lizards sunning themselves on a rock and birds feeding on plants is a whole world of discovery for kids.


Comments

Caroline writes...

My husband and I both love to garden. The minute it gets warm enough to be outside in the spring we're out in the garden. Unfortunately, our daughter doesn't have the same level of enthusiasm for gardening. Can you suggest some things we could do togehter as a family in the garden that would peak the interest of a seven-year-old?

Jamie? writes...

Hi guys, great that you both love to garden. A great little project for yourselves and the kids is to build a designated potting station. Good gardening takes time and requires regular attention and potted plants are no exception. So find an old wooden table and install steel mesh shelves underneath to store potting material. You can even whitewash the timber to give it more character. Put a series of storage boxes on top to store potting tools and other gardening elements. This then becomes a destination for the family to create all sorts of potted joy, you could plant annuals the kids could plant vegetables, you could repot indoor plants, you could create feature entrance pots and regularly update them and leave the creativity up to the individual. This now means you have an interactive garden and once the kids have learned the basics, let them make it their own. Happy gardening Jamie.

Jacqueline writes...

I live in an upstairs apartment with my two children, 5 years and 20 months. My youngest one is absolutely fascinated with flowers and birds, anything to do with the outdoors. I would like to have our own little garden, but we only have a small back porch. What can we grow that would a) have to be in some kind of container and b) keep my children's attention and c) not be expensive? Maybe something that would attract butterflys or hummingbirds.

Noreen writes...

I am a second grade teacher in western New York state. Do you have any ideas for a Mother's Day project my class could make using seeds or plants? Thank you!

Jamie? writes...

Hi, Glad your looking out for green projects for the kids, something I did a while ago with my daughter worked really well for mother's day and it simply involved grabbing a terracotta pot, 2 small variegated ivy plants and a frame made from a coat hanger bent into the shape of a love heart pushed into the soil. Once the frame had the desired shape you then wrap it in raffia or an organic looking material and twist the ivy around the shape to encourage it to meet at both ends. This is the gift that keeps on giving and it signifies what every child feels for their mother.... love.

Liz writes...

I'd like to do something with my kids to celebrate Earth Day. Do you have any suggestions of outdoor gardening ideas we can do and special messaging to help them understand the meaning of Earth Day? My children are 4 & 8.
Thanks.

Jamie? writes...

Hi, Thanks for your enquiry and glad you are thinking about Earth Day, especially spending it with the kids. I think one of the greatest things to do with Kids in the backyard in terms of a project that contributes towards the environment, would be to teach them how to recycle the household green waste and convert it into food on the table for the family. Try grabbing all your vegetable scraps and putting them into a worm farm or a compost bin. The worm farm means that the worms will eat through the vegetable scraps and leave behind vermicast. This is a great organic fertilizer and that can be mixed with your compost and existing soil in a potted vegetable patch where vegetables can be grown without chemicals naturally in your backyard and the children can feel like they have played a part in putting food on the table for the family. it's a win win for all.

chris writes...

WOW - thanks for the tips. My child is about 2.5 years old. Her attention span is not very long but loves to play in the sand box. What would you suggest for a quick interesting idea for this little one and her friends? Perhaps a fast growing plant that she can get excited about when she watches it grow?

Heidi writes...

Hi Jamie: Thanks for the great tips and for your enthusiasm about getting kids outside again. It's sad to see how much time is spent in front of electronic screens engaging in alternate realities instead of experiencing the natural world hands-on.

We have found another great site that helps parents with ideas and activities to get kids outdoors and wanted to share it with you and your readers. Check out the Green Hour from the National Wildlife Federation.

Cheers- Heidi

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