What could be more rewarding than spending some time with your children observing life in your garden (or even your balcony or park)? Whether it is planting some seeds and watching them grow into veggies, or watching butterflies visit a flower and roll out their long “straw” to drink nectar, if you just take the time, your garden will give your children a moment of internal quietness while they witness amazing buzzing activity.
Before you start, try to make enough free time in order to enjoy nature’s activities with the family. With a bit of patience and flexibility, you can involve even small kids in the preparation phase and pick and choose your favourite activities:
1. Give your children their own little plot of land or their own plant container. Ownership is important here! No mum/dad or big sibling needs to interfere in the young child’s personal approach when it comes to gardening! A little freedom can create miracles (be prepared to bite your tongue if it does not look pretty or neat)!
2. Find some easy, fast-growing plant seeds which the children can also enjoy, such as giant sunflowers (they grow taller than dad), sweet peas (nice to harvest and eat right away) or the edible nasturtium (the tall growing 3-4m ones). Make it into a routine to check the process daily and talk the waiting time away with stories and riddle games about nature and by looking at nature books...
3. Small-sized garden tools and little gloves can make it into a special moment, working alongside mum or dad!
4. Planting indigenous bushes and flowers which attract butterflies, bumblebees, and bees (see our 4 language-list on our website www.sunbeams.eu) can make your patch of land into a feast for the eyes and nose. You can easily find nature books and websites which can help you and your kids to learn all about local species.
5. Do not forget to leave a patch of land to nature: the host plants for butterfly eggs and larvae are often called “weeds” by humans. Sowing some wild flower seeds in between makes it look very pretty. Leaving some piles of wood and stones will offer shelter for them as well!
6. Making your garden into a haven for birds is very rewarding: shrubs for birds to hide from predators, bushes with berries for their food (go for the local species), a little pond or water area, all of these will make a huge difference. Extra feeding is only necessary in winter time (November-February), but water is always welcome.
7. Hedgehogs and rabbits might visit your garden if you leave a space in and/or under the fence/wall/hedge of your garden for them to pass through.
8. And of course, it is not ideal to use pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides when you have children around. There are many alternatives available: e.g. eco-labelled garden products, homemade potions (internet!), or rediscover some old wisdom by combining the right plants to keep away insects (e.g. permaculture techniques).
9. A little pond with a shallow slope will automatically bring guests and permanent inhabitants: salamanders and frogs will find their way to your garden (do not get eggs from other places as these might bring with them the wrong bacteria for your local amphibians), and all kinds of dragonflies will become regular visitors!
10. Planting a domestic tree is a lovely thing to do with kids (local species can be found on our website in several languages)! Make sure you plant them in the right season (October to March) and that you find the right spot for them to grow big!
11. Last but not least: composting. There is no better educational process to observe with your children: the complete cycle! Involve your children in composting your kitchen waste, putting it into the right bin, bringing it outside in a little bucket, adding the right green and brown layers, maybe some more water or cardboard and watching the worms do all the work. Then, finally to end the cycle, add the compost to their little garden to make their next season seeds grow tall....
If you want to know more about what you can do for biodiversity take a look at the special page on our website www.sunbeams.eu or at the suggested activities with children on this page.
The Sunbeams Team
A few nice addresses:
- Toy shops such as e.g. Nature et Découvertes (www.natureetdecouvertes.be)Woluwe Shopping Centre, City 2 and Esplanade in Louvain-la-Neuve) and Lokilino (Tervuren) offer many ideas for nature activities;
- Webshop of Vivara (www.vivara.be) gives a commission fee to nature organisations like Natuurpunt (www.natuurpunt.be ) and Vogelbescherming (www.vogelbescherming.be );
- Some English bookshops have a good selection of nature books for kids, e.g. Treasure Trove (Tervuren).
Activities with kids:
www.naturalsciences.be: Many activities for the whole family including an exhibition on biodiversity in the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.