Kids are naturally curious. In school, curiosity is often stifled. It’s not that teachers don’t want curious kids, it’s just that there are State mandated goals to meet. This leads to little time for curiosity. Thus a time of no school, like Spring Break, or Virus Break, or whatever you want to call it – now is the perfect time to encourage kid curiosity.
Ms. Frizzel of the Magic School Bus has a favorite saying “Get messy! Take chances! Make mistakes.” Mistakes are how we learn. The rule for us growing up was we could make a mess – as long as we cleaned it up.
Speaking of rules. Do lay down some ground rules first. No digging up landscape plants. Only a certain portion of the yard for messy kid activities. Body and feet must be clean before you come in. Things like that. Blast from my past – set the kitchen timer for 30 minutes. Can kids leave the parent alone for that long? I swear mom added time when we weren’t looking.
Start with dirt. Just add water. Let kids make mud pies. Encourage them to watch the water run down slopes. (Frank Lloyd Wright spent hours doing this as a child.) Add rocks for “raisins.” Find leaves and dead twigs for pirate ships. Let imagination run wild.
Grow a Pizza Garden.
All you need is a large pot, some potting soil, and herbs from a nursery. Or get some pots of herbs from Trader Joe’s even. Grow the herbs that flavor pizza! This is a good project for young children that might not necessarily have the patience or comprehension for starting plants from seed. This is also a good project for parents with “brown” thumbs. Herbs have been abused by human growers for six thousand years. The ones that are in the nursery are really tolerant of human neglect.
Go shopping for your pizza garden with your kids. Let them gently rub one herb in the nursery and then have them smell their finger, does it smell like something in pizza? Move to the next herb and use a different finger, then you can compare smells. Hint: you are looking for oregano, basil, and rosemary. (You can add thyme as well.) All of these can grow in one big pot together. Put the tall basil in the center.
Grow a Gourd (or 10)
Gourds offer an opportunity for kids to grow, harvest, be creative artists, and give gifts. Either birdhouse or dipper gourds grow well here, and now is the ideal time of year to plant gourds!
Find a spot in the garden where gourd vines can climb. A chain link fence works well, or hang coarse twine from the eaves for climbing. Gourds will also climb trees, but it makes them hard to harvest. If you can, grow the gourds over an arbor. A kid-high arbor would make a fun, secret cave to hide in.
Dried gourds can make bowls, bird houses, or “baskets.” Help the kids cut with a small saw. Clean the out seeds and save some for next year. Decorate the gourds with acrylic or tempera paints. Tempera paint will stick to gourds better if you add one quarter volume of white glue to the paint.
One plant grows many gourds, so there will be plenty to give away. Giving to others is an important developmental step for children. Giving a gift that they grew themselves is an experience unparalleled by any other a child can have.
Did a plant die because they forgot to take care of it? Better a plant than a puppy!
Here is an opportunity to learn to do better next time. Here is a chance to discuss death and compost. Maybe make a calendar just for watering plants and make a check mark each day.
Kids do need an opportunity to get messy, try new things, and investigate the world. Learning to safely investigate the world is a critical step in learning to be an independent, creative, and innovative thinker. Encourage your children to wonder and marvel. Encourage them to investigate and play. Foster fun, and permit them to make excited noises as they discover things. Encourage them to be kids.
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More fun with kids – celebrate Earth Day (April 22) and Build a Biosphere at the Flowing Wells Library. Update – Please call the library or check the Facebook page to be certain this will happen.
Grown-ups – come to one of my other free lectures that I mention on the Gardening With Soule Facebook page. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit “Tierra del Sol” may get a few pennies.
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