Creating a child-friendly garden
In a recent survey parents were asked whether their gardens were child-friendly. Nearly three quarters (73 percent) said yes. On closer scrutiny, what they meant was that they had a swing or a high fence to keep out intruders.
But few parents (less than a third) have a dedicated space where kids can nurture their own seeds and plants and more than a third admitted their child has never planted anything.
If that rings true with you, you could be overlooking a vital teaching resource in your own backyard – even if you live on the fourteenth floor of a high-rise block.
Positive effects of children's activities in the garden
“There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that exposure to nature is good for both the physical and psychological health of children,” says child psychologist Dr Sandra Scott.
“Fundamentally, gardening can improve children’s key cognitive, motor, personal and social skills which could help them progress both academically and socially.”
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Gardening encourages your child’s thinking skills. Children learn about insects and plant growth cycles and their relevance to each other, about plotting and grafting, and the effects of changing weather. Getting your child to help map and plan out the garden encourages the use of mathematics, drawing and reading – core skills we need every day. A window box requires even keener creative abilities on how to use smaller spaces, and still involves the planning, planting, growing and maintaining learning experiences.
Gardening teaches responsibility, it helps give children a sense of independence and autonomy. They become responsible for keeping the garden alive and ensuring its wellbeing, a bit like having a pet. The sense of achievement they get is equally important. Children have charge over few things in their lives so they appreciate it much more.
Studies have shown that children exposed to nature are more physically fit and recover more quickly from illness. It’s obvious why – gardening ensures they’re always maintaining levels of fitness, coordination, balance, and motor skills. If your child is not used to being very active Dr Scott recommends parents act as an example. If you point them to the garden and say, “get on with it”, they may just look at you as though you’ve gone mad. Lead with an imaginative game: try using a design theme based on your child’s favourite character from a book. Throw yourself in one hundred percent and make it a laugh. Children are sponges – if you’re enthusiastic they will be too.
Create a project that requires teamwork to give your child the opportunity to work with others. Dr Scott says gardening reduces anti-social behaviour, such as littering, and even bullying. Exposure to greenery and being outside has a calming affect. It teaches children to appreciate things in a quieter way. "Gardening also offers parents the opportunity to teach their children about the world we live in," says Dr Scott. "And with all the newspaper reports about rising seas levels, extinct species, and lack of regard and respect for nature, it’s almost like a responsibility we have. We want to make their lives better for the future so we want the planet to be in the best shape for future to help guarantee that."