Translation for the German phrase kindergarten is literally “garden of children”. Though schools offer an excellent education to kids, many lack exposure to nature. Gardens, though, can still be a wonderful place for children to participate in science, engage their imaginations and practice motor skills.
By Sharon A. Shaw
You don’t need much space to offer children a garden of their own. Everything about these spaces can be smaller; the paths, shade trees and plots. A special place can be set aside in the yard and disguised from view or children can be involved in the landscape with an attractive design. Even a container garden can stimulate the mind of a child.
Soil is a crucial element to any garden. Not only does it provide a growing medium for plants, it offers a great surface for digging and building. More than just dirt, a sand box or gravel path offers a variety of textures for little hands to explore. Water has a similar value for kids. Its soothing sounds, sparkling ripples and cooling effects are one of childhoods’ simple pleasures for splashing hands and feet. When space allows, a pool offers hours of play for the entire family, but a pond has the added benefit of aquatic life and beauty in a smaller space. Children can experience the joys of water with even the addition of a recirculating fountain or twirling sprinkler.
Fish, frogs and turtles make their home in ponds but water will attract birds, butterflies and toads as well. These animals will also used homes designed for them. Toads will happily reside beneath an overturned pot while attractive bird and butterfly houses or feeders will invite these winged beauties. A special place can even be included for a favorite pet. A dog house, bunny hutch or patch of catmint will encourage a beloved companion to be a nearby. Even the worms hidden beneath a stone offer an opportunity for education. Children learn in a variety of ways, caring for plants and animals in the garden exposes them to their lifecycles.
A set of small tools including a watering can and wheelbarrow or wagon assure kids can participate. Start with a small area that they can easily manage. Allow them to assist with planning to increase the educational opportunities. Select plants that are tough enough to handle rough treatment, foot traffic and overzealous picking. Kids enjoy seeds that are easy to plant and offer quick rewards, like sunflowers, pumpkins and zinnias. Planting climbing beans onto a tee-pee of poles creates a unique hideaway for children.
These sort of whimsical elements encourage children to use their imagination. Sculpture including sundials, gazing globes and even garden gnomes take on a new life through the eyes of children. To express their creativity, let kids try their hand at making a scarecrow or training a topiary. Plants with unique colors, texture or features inspire children. Gourds come with a variety of shape and uses. Grasses, ferns, moss and bark all offer enjoyable textures. Theme gardens can capitalize on a child’s interest whether it is rainbows, dinosaurs or sorcery.
Children also need space for movement. Play structures with slides, rings and climbing bars encourage a specific type of play, as do sport courts, but landscape features such as open lawns, gentle hills and boulders allow for a variety of activities. A maze can be constructed with a labyrinth of plants or a twisting pathway. Even a single swing from a tree gets kids moving. Rocks and trees also create height in the landscape, which gives children a new perspective on their world.
A tree house is a great way to offer both height and refuge. It is important for children to have a place to call their own. Play houses and tree forts create spaces that adults cannot easily enter. Smaller child-sized furniture also offers something special that only they can use.
Safety is a necessary consideration in a garden for kids. Even private refuges should be visible to parental supervision and accessible in an emergency. The height of play-sets, tree houses and lookouts should be kept with-in a safe range and the area beneath cushioned with an approved playground mulch. For children too young to understand the possible dangers of a pond, a pondless waterfalls is a safe alternative. It offers the beauty of a tumbling stream but is recirculated from an underground reservoir. Choose plants that are non-toxic, especially where some elements are edible. Texture is an important exploratory tool for children so select plants that do not have sharp leaves or thorns and ones that do not attract bees.
By following these guidelines you can create a space for the children in your life to learn through experience and enjoy for many years.
Photos and article courtesy of Keith Frederick, president, Environmental Landscape Associates Inc., Doylestown. For more information, call 800-ELA-9252 or visit their website at www.elaoutdoorliving.com.