Getting your kids interesting in anything that is not on a screen can sometimes feel like an insurmountable challenge. But with the right approach, you can make sure that they develop a keen and healthy interest in the natural world, and learn the joys of gardening in a polytunnel.
As with anything you want to teach your kids, the key is not to force it. It is important to edge them into healthy and educational activities by making sure that they don’t feel like work, and just seem like a lot of fun. Don’t get too intense about it, and don’t force the issue. But taking a gently, gently approach, a little at a time, you can instil in them a life-long interest in gardening and things that grow. Here are some of the things that you could do:
Think About How Your Own Kids Engage With The World
Different people engage with the world, and learn from it, in different ways. Some kids will be focussed on visual stimuli, others will be more physical, others more logical and mathematical, others might learn best through words, others still may learn best through aural means – through what they hear.
Think about how your child learns and engages with the world best, and use that to develop new and interesting ways to interact in and with the garden. Remember, the more we learn about something and the more we understand it, the more interested in that thing we are likely to be.
For Visual Learners:
Those who engage with the world predominantly through their eyes will learn best when you show them how much fun, and how interesting the garden can be. Get kids interested by pointing out interesting details about growing or plants – how peas send out their ‘grapple hooks’ for example, to hang on to their supports, or how certain flowers turn their heads to follow the sun. Get them to look out for all the little creatures that inhabit your garden, and learn to recognise them together.
For Physical Learners:
For physical focussed children, doing is more important than seeing. It’s time to get out into the garden together and actually get your hands dirty. Dig, hoe, sow, plant… Pick slugs off plants… Water the garden by hand… Create active games that allow them to interact with the garden, its plants and animals. Show them how much fun it can be to climb trees, turn over a compost heap, and feel the soil between their fingers. Let them touch the garden to learn to love it.
For Logical Learners:
Logical learners thrive in an ordered and organised world. The garden and the natural world in general may seem, at times, like a chaotic place. But in a garden, we actually do a lot to bring the world to heel. Help them to understand that in the garden, they can see the cycles of nature at work. Engage with children who have logical, mathematical minds by showing them how we, as gardeners, plan for year-round growing. Explain how attracting wildlife will help to keep pests under control, and how we feed the soil to feed the plants, which feed the soil in turn. Get them interested in gardening by exploring all the facts and figures of the gardening world.
For Verbal Learners:
Some kids may not like it when you tell them about the garden, or read books about it. But for verbal learners, who engage best with the word through words, written and spoken, these things may be key to getting them interested. Weave word pictures about the garden and the plants and animals it contains. Create compelling narratives to engage them and to explain what you are doing. Tell stories about gardening and growing, and be sure to leave plenty of cool gardening books lying around, or read books about gardens at bed time.
For Aural Learners:
If your kids engage with the world mostly through what they hear, then get kids interested in the garden through telling stories, yes, but also, perhaps, through engaging with the garden through music and song. Getting them to explore the soundscape of the garden – the rustling of leaves, the whooshing wind, the trickle or drip of water – to pique their interest. You could also consider ways to make the aural landscape of your garden richer and more magical through the things you plant and the other garden features you include.
Get Kids Interested in Gardening Through Their Other Interests
In addition to thinking about the ways in which your child or children engage best with the world around them, you should also be sure to bear their own particular character and interests in mind. Is your child quiet and introspective, or boisterous, adventurous and bold? What kind of things do they enjoy in general? What are their particular interests at the moment?
For example, if your child is interested in sports and physical activities, and has a competitive nature, you could turn gardening into a competition. Engage them to complete with their friends or siblings in growing the best and biggest plants… challenge them to complete a manual task as quickly as possible. Encourage them to get to know the garden by setting them challenges such as finding as many bugs as they can and then identify them all together.
If your child is interested in science at school, you could get them interested in gardening by undertaking some garden science projects together. Look at leaves or bugs under a microscope, for example, or take part in a citizen science project to count a certain species, or monitor the overall biodiversity in your garden. Animal lovers may enjoy these activities too, as well as a range of other wildlife related activities in the garden.
Lots of kids have an interest in food – especially sweet treats. What better way to get them interested in growing their own than giving them the opportunity to cook, bake or otherwise prepare the things you grow together? When kids know just how delicious the things you and they grow can be, the more inclined they may be to help out in the garden.
Make Connections Between Other Interests and Hobbies, and Your Garden
Whatever your kids interests may be – from computer games, to photography, from art to music, from sports to fashion… there are a range of ways to tie almost anything back to your garden, and get them to spend time there.
Get Kids Interesting in Gardening By Talking About What’s At Stake
When talking to kids, you have to walk a fine line between telling them too much and telling them too little. This is exemplified in the case of climate change, and the global crises we currently face. This is a truly terrifying topic, and it can be challenging to work out how much to say and how to say it.
While you should always bear in mind your own child and how they react to things, it is generally a good idea to try to tell kids the truth about the world they live in, without giving them nightmares. One great way to talk about climate change is to acknowledge the problems, but to focus not on the disasters, but on what can be done to change things for the better. Talking about the world’s problems, and how many of these can be lessened in a garden, could be a great way to get them more interested.
Get Kids Interested in Gardening By Giving Them Control
Kids do need protection, of course. But it is important to loosen those apron strings from time to time and allow them to take a measure of control of their environment and situation. Empowering kids to a degree, and allowing them to make some of their own choices in your garden, is a safe and effective way to teach them important life lessons, and show them how their actions and choices all have real consequences.
Giving kids a patch of your garden, that they can do what they want with, can allow them to use their imaginations and do the things in the garden that they like to do, growing what they want to grow. Having control and agency over the garden can make it a lot more interesting to them.
Do Something With Them That Shows Results
Sometimes, nature works very slowly, and kids, with short attention spans, can sometimes lose interest before any results can be seen. Doing things in your garden that show immediate results can be a good way to spark that initial interest. For example, in addition to sowing faster growing seeds, you could also consider planting a fruit tree, creating a wildlife pond, or making another landscape or habitat feature. These things might not provide yield right away – but they will make an instant impact in your garden.
Enthusing kids about gardening is important. Kids who are interested in gardening will learn a huge range of important, life-long skills, and become effective guardians for our planet in the future. Do your kids help you in the polytunnel, or elsewhere in the garden? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.