A love of gardening stems from a childhood of backyard exploration and good dirty fun.
While our weather has been a tad spastic, it is official: Spring has sprung. Last Tuesday was the first day of spring, more officially known as the vernal equinox.
Flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping, the temperature is inviting and the bugs are still at a minimum. Grab your kids and go outside!
If you have a sunny patch of earth or an available corner of your patio, gardening can be a fun way to develop a child’s appreciation for the outdoors. While older kids may be more suited to formal gardening, even the youngest tots will benefit from dirt and water sensory play—or just digging around in search of worms.
Last weekend, I tried to engage my 3-year-old with good old fashioned weed pulling. I had this grand vision of a beautiful yard, vigilantly maintained by a preschooler with boundless energy. I mean, she loves picking from the plants that I’ve planted. Why not direct that enthusiasm toward a few of mommy’s nuisance plants? My plan worked for two or three weeds and then she lost interest. My lesson: Focus on her interests (bugs and flowers) and attention span (minimal).
Older infants and toddlers often love the textures and elements found in a garden. Dirt, rocks and water are all fun to feel and mix, as long as little ones aren’t left unattended. My 1-year-old just recently discovered the joy of watering plants, one tiny cupful at a time. Scoop from bucket, dump in potted plant and repeat, repeat, repeat.
Preschoolers are little scientists. According to KidsGardening.org, giving kids the reigns to explore and experiment is key. Let them dig in the dirt, blow the seeds off a dandelion or flip over larger rocks to see what lives underneath. While you can help them plant, keep most of your focus on immediate learning opportunities instead of the ultimate outcome of gardening efforts.
Finally, celebrate the season with garden-inspired books and activities.
- A few of our favorite books include "Miss Rumphius" by Barbara Cooney, "The Beeman" by Laurie Krebs and "Westlandia" by Paul Fleischman.
- Scavenger hunt: Collect leaves from an assortment of local trees. Once home, look up the name of the trees, annotate, press the leaves (or do a crayon rubbing) and make a booklet. Similarly, sketch or snap a picture of birds or bugs found around town. Together, identify the critters and create a local wildlife guide.
- Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon: Vegetable Gardening 10 (FREE). Fairlington Community Center, 3308 S. Stafford St., Arlington. To register, call 703.228.6414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- March 31, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Rain Garden Workshop (FREE). Fairlington Community Center, Rm. 134. RSVP to Aileen Winquist at email@example.com.
- March 31: Warwick Village Beautification and Clean-Up Day. Volunteers will plant low-maintenance native plants around various median end-caps. Neighbors are encouraged to pick up trash and groom medians and curbs.
- April 14, 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.: Gardening in Containers. Duncan Library, 2501 Commonwealth Ave., Alexandria
- April 21: Alexandria Earth Day 2012 Celebration. Ben Brenman Park, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (http://www.alexearthday.org/)
- May 19: Del Ray House and Garden Tour.
- May 20, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.: Spring Pruning Workshop. 2416 Ridge Road Dr., Alexandria.
- June 9 and 10: Symposium—Working With Nature for Sustainable, Beautiful Gardens. Farlington Community Center and MGNV Demonstration Gardens. To register, go to www.mgnv.org or www.eventbrite.com/event/2763653161.
How do you encourage your budding gardeners? Tell us in the comments.