Recently the BBC published an article saying that Gardening is an activity that can help you live until you are 100 or more!  And there is nothing a toddler loves more than a little watering can to sprinkle onto the plants like Mom and Dad. Gardening is a wonderful life-long activity and with so many kids off school right now we turned to our Youth Programs Coordinator Paula to ask her some questions to help get your children engaged and involved in gardening for life!

Question 1: What are your favourite moments when Gardening with children? Why is this such a meaningful activity for them?

It is hard to pick just one favourite moment in the garden, but here is one I never tire of. Our Junior Master Gardener (JMG) Camps feature lots of gardening as a group and our week together begins with an orientation of what is growing, naming plants and deciding what belongs and what needs to go! Of course, the weeds are the first to be identified and then the search is on to see how many we can rid from the garden. The garden team all have their buckets and gloves and tools and we work together to eliminate as many of these unwanted plants as we can. Well, it’s never just about the weeds, because as soon as you find one there is a root to notice, then the worm that crawled out of the opening has our attention, then the difference that the next root presents! Their enthusiasm for discovery is infectious. So I guess weeding is a favourite! You can talk about plants and what is happening in the garden, but when children begin to explore on their own, there is no end to the discoveries and understandings they form. Really it’s all about giving them a place to play, but at the same time a place to learn and grow!

Question 2: Some parents are overwhelmed by how much information there is on gardening. Do you have some websites or online resources they can use to get started?

The internet makes it so easy to source out information, but not all information is accurate, practical or suited to our climate. My favourites include; Linda Gilkeson who is a gulf islands resident, teacher, writer and entomologist who has a fabulous monthly newsletter and books that I use all the time. She has a very practical approach to gardening that does not require buying lots of materials, but instead using what is available. ( www.lindagilkeson.ca ) For our Pacific Northwest climate, West Coast Seeds provides the seeds and the no how to grow your best garden! Their online planting charts, crop suggestion, and seed selection are perfect for whatever scale of gardening you do. This is the seed I use for my programs and get great results! I pick up a copy of their Gardening Guide at our Gift Shop ( www.westcoastseeds.com) and love to check out what is new for the season. Then I like to make my way through each crops best practices for growing. This is really helpful because it tells you how to best grow each crop and the amazing chart will lead you through the garden season.

Question 3: What are some games kids can play in the gardens?

SCAVENGER HUNTS… they never get old and there are so many themes to use. You can use colours, plants, insects, leaves, hidden treasures and more. Lots of homeschool bloggers include them for free printing, but it is pretty easy to make up your own. If you have a child who enjoys taking photos you can include that too.

Question 4: How can parents tie in home-learning in their garden?

The garden is a natural place to learn. We can observe all sorts of processes in nature and creatures by being outdoors. A garden that supports biodiversity is the best classroom. Here’s an example. It was the end of our first day of JMG garden camp and the campers were checking in on their newly seeded containers. We all noticed that there were honey bees collecting on top of some of the seeded containers. It was not a behavior that the campers were familiar with and we discussed some thoughts of what the bees might be doing. In the end we decided to do an experiment to help figure it out. We set out a lid with a bit of water in it on top of the table near the seeded containers. Within a very short time, the bees were visiting the lid and taking a drink. The containers had all been heavily misted following planting and the honey bees were gathering moisture! If we had done the seeding indoors we would have missed this opportunity to learn. The fun thing is, you do not even need a plan… let nature take the lead!

Question 5: Any craft ideas for families that you love doing this time of year?

It is full-on garden time! Seed starts are a fun and easy way to get busy and plan your garden. Find old containers with holes in the bottom, add some organic potting mix to create a container garden. Then make some fun plant stakes as markers for each planting. These can be made out of popsicle sticks (painted or not), clay or even rocks. Use acrylic paints and decorate the markers and help remember what was planted where!