I have lost count the number of times people have said to me "Children are not allowed in my allotment". I always have to ask WHY? My father got his allotment before I was born and, to this day, he still has what he calls his 'bit of heaven'. I can honestly say I can never ever remember him refusing to take me for what he called a 'potter' when I asked to go. My early memories weren't of playing in the allotment; I helped pick the produce with a little basket and ate what seemed like extra large raspberries. It was never a problem lifting buckets and pushing wheelbarrows full (or maybe less full than I remember) to the compost bin. I always found it fascinating that Dad's cabbages and potatoes would grow like soldiers in a straight row after I had been the dibber-on-a-string mover. It was even more exciting to see how he would empty them plants in pots so easily, holding the plant gentle, whilst he showed me all the little roots and what looked like the contents of my grandma's knitting bag. Wow! How does water get through all of them? On a Sunday night, it was the weekly bonfire where I was allowed to stand within distance of the fire to see all the garden rubbish being burned. To this day, if you go by allotments you can see little plumes of smoke on the Sabbath day. All these early memories are what has encouraged and nurtured my interest in the garden/allotment. I love all things nature and love what is around our British environment. Thank you Dad.
Working with small children is rewarding and seeing how they love to contribute in the garden club has helped me realise this should be part of every child's experience of growing up.
What do children gain? Besides how the plants grow and where good food comes from they learn patience, love of the environment and surroundings, spatial awareness and rules, how the seasons change, and what nature can help provide and why it is important.
Simple rules to remember:
Children have only got a small attention span: I usually say up to the age of ten, the level of their attention span differs and dependent on the age, the older they get, the more the amount of time they can tolerate. For example, a five year old always seems to have an attention span of five minutes, so always do something with them that doesn't make them easily get bored. Small varied tasks is better than one long one.
From experience, the children you least expect can enjoy the gardening the most. It can have a calming effect for such over-active minds.
Show them the paths to use and explain why they shouldn't walk or run in certain areas.
Make sure any water/glass areas are child-friendly but also explain the dangers about playing near or inside them.
Show a child how to pick up tools and carry them around the garden under supervision.
Make a child their personal garden/space that they can call their own, starting with fast growing easy to grow small vegetables i.e. radish. Most children love sunflowers and seeing them grow big. They are fascinated by the seeds and if they are lucky can see the birds eating them.
Let a child dig. They love their own little area and tend to start looking for treasure or digging deep but that's part of the fun.
Important: Be aware some seeds/beans can be irritants so always read the packet before letting children handle them. Plants to be aware of can include tomato plant leaves and rhubarb leaves. Watch out for berries and potato seed these shouldn't be touched or eaten and also remember the danger of toadstools.
More importantly, enjoy passing down your knowledge, spending time together whilst encouraging healthy, natural and inquisitive minds.