Gardens can make great educational resources for kids, with something to see and do at pretty much any time of the year.
For a parent who’s looking to harness the learning potential of the kids’ garden – but isn’t quite sure where to start – here are five top tips to get you thinking about how to go about it.
1. Be Sneaky!
After a long week at school, even the keenest child is hardly looking to get yet another lesson at the weekend – and especially not outside his or her own back door – so don’t try to make your kids garden into a full-on outdoor classroom!
The trick is to be a bit sneaky and design your garden with all sorts of potential educational experiences to be enjoyed, without making it too obvious what you’re doing. That way you’ll be sure to pique their interest and allow them to discover things for themselves – even if you planned it that way all along.
2. Create A Hands-On Garden
Around 2,500 years ago, the Chinese philosopher Confucius is credited with saying “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand” – and even after all this time, it still holds true.
Give your children the chance to do things in the garden for themselves as much as you possibly can and you’ll be giving the sort of education opportunity that they should remember – and most importantly, understand – for a lifetime.
Of course, this requires a bit of careful tailoring to make it appropriate to the ages and aptitudes of the kids involved – but then that’s really no different from any other childhood activity and it’s well worth the effort.
3. Include Wildlife
A wildlife area in the garden can be one of the most useful education resources of all and opens up a personal window on nature for your youngsters that’s hard to beat. From wildflowers, bees and ladybirds, to larger visitors such as frogs, hedgehogs and birds, add a few wildlife friendly features to your kids garden and you’ll soon recruit an army of willing classroom assistants – albeit winged, feathered or furred ones!
You’ll never find a better way of explaining the mysteries of pollination, for instance, than letting your kids watch it for themselves – and there’s no quicker way to encourage that spirit of scientific enquiry than giving them a good guide book to identify the latest unknown creepy-crawly they’ve found.
Adding a wildlife area doesn’t have to be a big undertaking. An undisturbed corner, or even a simple bird table or a couple of nesting boxes will do fine, if you’re really limited on space, but if you can accommodate something a little bigger, so much the better.
4. Plant For Variety
Even a quick look at your local garden centre or through a plant catalogue makes the point pretty clearly that plants come in the most incredible range of colours, shapes, sizes and habits – so make use of this when you plan the planting scheme for your kids garden.
When it comes to deciding what to buy, it’s worth thinking about the educational possibilities of the plants you’re considering and try to get a mix of kinds which will help you to illustrate some of the interesting aspects of nature and living things. It’s also worth trying to select plants that will provide as much year-round interest as you can, starting with really early bulbs such as snowdrops and winter aconites and ending with late-flowering plants and evergreens.
5. Don’t Just Think About Biology
Gardens are great places to learn an awful lot of biology, of course, but that’s not all they can do as an educational resource. A good planting scheme can benefit art – teaching complementary colours, shade and hue, for instance – while a solar powered water feature combines physics and caring for the environment in a single, easy package.
The sounds, smells and textures of the kids garden are every bit as important things for your youngsters to experience as growing plants from seed, or making compost – so it’s always worth experimenting a bit to make as much use of the garden as you possibly can.
The real key to making the kids garden educational lies in incorporating as many interesting, informative and down-right fun features in it as you possibly can – and then let your youngsters enjoy their own voyage of discovery finding out about them.
It requires a little bit of thought, of course, but get it even half-way right and the kids won’t be the only ones having fun!