Saturday, July 19, 2008

Kids in the Garden

Each month I try to post ideas for kids activities in the garden. I realized that I missed last month. I need to set a day each month to do it so it gets done. So, since I thought of it today and today is the 19th...the 19th of each month will be the official day for posting about kids in the garden. I know of other garden bloggers posting "columns" the first weekend of the month, the 15th of the month, and the 30th of the month. I figure no one has a lock on the 19th!

Before I start with some new ideas for kids activities in the garden. I must mention that our sunflower house seems to have failed. I have very bad luck with sunflowers. They grow short and scraggly or not at all. Next year I will try one more time in the sunniest location on my property. The sunflower plot is backed against the woods this year and I'm afraid it is not getting enough light. The year before I think the chipmunks stole the seeds. We also wanted to participate in the Great Sunflower Project, but since we can't get the sunflowers to grow we have to skip it. I figure at least my daughter has learned that gardening is not perfect. We will have some disappointments.

One more update about a past activity...the reading garden is a huge success! Yesterday my daughter pulled her best friend into the garden and announced "No grownups allowed!" They sat on the reading bench together READING! Woohoo! Freedom in the garden is important. Creating secret hideouts and exploration are all important parts of their outdoor learning.

A new found garden activity that we enjoy together is singing. I explained that gardening is fun because it is such a quiet activity that you can chat or sing while doing it. So the little one pulled on her gardening gloves and started making up songs about mother nature. "We love plants. Plants are gooood, ooooooo." I decided to turn it into a little lesson. I asked why she thinks plants are good and she told me they are pretty. So, I told her about how plants take in the carbon dioxide that we breathe out. They turn it into oxygen so that we can breathe. "Plants are good...ooo...they make oxygen. yeah, yeah! oooooo!" (sing this song to your own tune or try Twinkle Twinkle Little Star -- one of our personal favorites.)

Yesterday I encouraged my daughter and her friends to take a break from play to try some of the first raspberries and blueberries of the season. They clamored for as much as they could get. There is nothing like sharing fresh fruit off the bush with kids.

Playing with garden creatures is super fun stuff. (Just don't let your child name a frog it finds and then find one that looks like it dead in the pool the next day. "Mom? MOM! Is that Jackie frog? What's wrong with Jackie frog?!" Tip: The best thing to do is to empty the strainers and scan the pool before your child goes for a dip.) We've begun hunting for butterflies since they are starting to frequent the garden more regularly as their favorite plants are flowering. My daughter has a net to catch them. We then transfer them to a bug house and watch them for a few months before releasing. We have also included other bugs in our hunts. We had grasshoppers and ants visiting at one time. Hunting for small bugs is a great activity because a. It keeps the little one busy for an hour and b. it encourages the child to focus, looking really closely at nature to find really small things. Our intention is to pick up a bug identification book this summer so we can learn more about them. My sister Liz, who is still known for her butterfly catching prowess twenty five years later, sent my daughter a Live Butterfly Garden for her birthday. The set we have is made by Insect Lore. The box contains a cage for the butterflies, but you have to mail away a postcard and three dollars to get the caterpillars and food. (I thought it was a little cheesy that they want three more dollars from us after my sister bought this nice gift. If they really need the three dollars, why not charge it right off the bat? Three dollars isn't a lot, but it seems like they've already been paid...Perhaps I'm just being too cynical?) We will let you know how the butterflies grow.

We have also spent time pressing flowers. We have a fancy press (two pieces of woods with large screws at each corner) from Oriental Trading Company. Most of my life I've used heavy books with pieces of papers in them. My daughter and I go for bike rides and she collects the wildflowers in her front basket. We have wildflower identification guide that encourages her to check off what she finds. Some of the specimens we use for drying are also from my flower gardens. The skinnier the flowers work the best. Flowers with fat blossoms take longer to dry and sometimes mold or turn an ugly color before we complete the process. I'm sure there is a fancy way to prevent this, but this is a pretty simple project. The drying takes about a week. When the flowers are ready, we make collages, taking photographs of friends, cut pieces of colored paper, and adding our own drawings. These make great cards! When I was young, my mother and I put the flowers in our photo albums. As an archivist I must add that though this is quite pretty, it is very bad for your photographs. The organic matter will eat away at the papers. Instead, make copies of photographs or better yet, photocopy the flowers. (My high school art teacher makes beautiful pieces of art out of scanned flowers and has exhibited the work in SoHo.) Allow kids to be creative with the originals, scans, or photocopies. Hone their artistic talents while teaching them about science.

With bugs, fresh fruit, flowers, and musical entertainment we are having a great summer. I hope that you are too. Happy exploring!

4 comments:

MELISSA MANNON said...

phew! after posting this, I realized just how long it is! I'm sorry for being so wordy today.

Amy said...

We really wanted to make a sunflower house this year too, but my knee injury made a few plans fall by the wayside. We do have sunflowers planted around our composting area as a screen, and in a new flowerbed. They all seem to be doing pretty well so far.

kate smudges said...

This was a wonderful post. I like the idea of singing in the garden. I tried to make a sunflower house last summer over at a school garden and it was a flop. The sunflowers were straggly and didn't get very tall.

Your post reminded me of the fun I used to have with my son - when I was digging in the garden, he used to take some earthworms and create families that he'd move to a different location and with his little shovel would bury them. He's always been comfortable handling worms and when I started worm composting, he helped me with it. He has always understood how valuable earthworms are to our gardens.

MELISSA MANNON said...

I haven't been able to get my daughter to truly appreciate earthworms yet!