Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gardening with kids

I planted some nasturtiums three days ago and the first is already sprouting. They seem to come up as soon as they touch the soil and, before you know it, are full adult plants demanding repotting.

Watching it burst through made me think back to when my son was little and he used to sow "his" seeds and grow them alongside mine. I always gave him the fun ones - the ones which would develop quickly, and be big and bold. I wanted to encourage him with little, instant and everyday results that would make him want to go on caring for the plant and checking on what had happened from one day to the next.

Was I right? When I explained this to someone else, who also had kids and was a keen gardener I got the snooty reply "I don't like to patronise my kids. I want them to understand that nature has its own times".

Well, it was a snooty reply - because this was a rather snooty person. But it stuck - because in theory I agree. But in practice I don't, because the perception of time of a five-year-old is not the same as that of an adult.

One of my earliest memories comes for the time when I was - I'm not sure how old. No more than four because I wasn't yet at school. Certainly young enough to still watch the TV programmes for the youngest children.

We didn't have a TV in those days, but my grandparents, who lived just up the road, had just bought one. (OK, OK - I'm showing my age here. Forget it.) And every day I was allowed to go to my grandparents to see the 15 minute slot on the BBC for the youngest children -
Watch with Mother (or in my case Watch with Nanny and Grandad).

There was a different programme every day - The Woodentops, Muffin the Mule, Bill and Ben. I loved them all, and could still sing you the theme tunes. But my favourite was Andy Pandy. And I remember going home one day after watching Andy Pandy (my real love was his best friend, Teddy) crying my eyes out. Because it was going to be so long, eons and eons, before the next episode was shown.

Now, Andy Pandy came on once a week. Every Tuesday. So I actually only had to wait seven days. But for a four-year-old's perception of time, seven days is an eternity.

I remember reading somewhere the theory that time perception is determined by the proportion of that time in relation to your age. So, if you are one year old, a week is 1/52 of your age. When you're twenty it's 1/1040 of your age, and when you're fifty two it's 1/2704 of your age. And you perceive it accordingly. When you're fifty a week flies in the blink of an eyelid. But when you're one you perceive it as lasting the same amount of time as a whole year for a fifty two year old.

Now, I've no idea how theoretically sound this idea is. But it certainly accords with my own differing perception of time as I've grown older - each year it seems to pass faster and faster.

So - when you're gardening with kids, keep it in mind. Asking them to wait two or three weeks for their seeds to sprout may be like having to wait months and months yourself. A real way of getting them to understand "nature's own times" might well be to give them the fast-sprouting, fast growing seeds. The wait will seem just as long to them as it does to you as you patiently wait for your petunias to come through.

Here are just a couple of things you can try now. They'll all grow happily in pots and you can start them off now on the windowsill and then transfer them outside (to the ground or larger pots) when they get bigger and the weather's better :

1. As I said, nasturtiums. They come through quickly, and grow quickly, developing large leaves and large flowers. Get the kids to measure them daily and calculate how much they've grown - great for maths practice.

2. Sunflowers - the same advantages. Try growing one for each member of the family. Let everybody have responsibility for their own - water, light, fertiliser etc - measure them regularly and record the results. Who can grow the tallest plant? Again, great for maths, but also for teaching the kids to take responsibility for other living things. If you have a large age range in the family, the littlest ones may need help of course. Maybe the oldest could remind and help the youngest.

3. Beans - if they have to stay in pots, use a dwarf variety. All the fast growing advantages of the others, and this time the child has the satisfaction of harvesting her/his own crop and "feeding the family".

4. Any of the above, but try an experiment. Let several plants sprout, then get the child to grow one giving it the water, fertiliser, light and temperature it needs. With all the others take away one of these conditions - take away the light from one, put one in the fridge, don't fertilise another, don't water the last. Each day record how large they've grown, how healthy they are. A great way of showing the kids how life needs certain conditions.

Well it is, if you can bear it. Have to say that the last was an experiment my son did at primary school. My heart bled for all those poor, deprived, doomed seedlings ...


Curbstone Valley Farm said...

That brought back some memories. I LOVED Andy Pandy as a child in England...I'd almost forgotten about that show.

I think you're both right. I think it's important to encourage younger children to garden with plants that are successful, and quick growing/spreading so they have the patience to stick with it early on, but also to see the rewards of gardening. Then gradually, as they move toward bigger challenges in the garden they learn that not all plants are necessarily as successful, or easy to grow. If you start with the tough stuff, I think they tend to lose interest. Besides, learning to garden is a process, it takes time, so why not start with the basics. My parents bought me strawberry plants as my 'first plants' for the garden. I got to eat the fruit which was great, but the biggest reward was that at the end of the season, I doubled the number of plants I had! I learned important lessons about slugs that year too!

Jim Groble said...

Great pic and post. I too remember life before TV and can still sing the songs. jim

izle said...

thank you

Helen at summerhouse said...

I agree with you about showing faster sprouters to kids. Just to keep their interest. As for time and how it's perceived, well, I feel like I'm on the other side of the hill now and the wind is whipping past my ears as I go down it! Time is just going too fast and there's not enough of it! Personally, re gardening, even though my father was into gardening I didn't get the bug myself till my 30's. I've noticed the same in some of my friends as well.

Jan said...

That theory of time certainly makes sense to me! In my previous existence as a Nursery Teacher the children usually planted broad beans in the nursery garden, which grow fast as you say. We usually ended up with enough pods for me to boil up the beans and add to the snack table. Another good flower for children to grow is the Calendula, as they're quite fast.

Svetlana said...

Thank you for unexpectable tour to our childhood! Great post. Baby beans flowers are so touching.

Iowa Gardening Woman said...

Interesting post and nice photos.

Jess said...

I totally totally agree with you that kids don't operate on the same time we do. As a kid my mom forced me to pick peas in the hot summer weather, and to get enough for dinner it took, if my memory serves me, ALL DAY. Its amazing I still like growing things giving that multi year traumatic experience. Now of course, the same task takes about 6 minutes, and I'm happy to help, I don't even whine anymore.

J.C. said...

I totally agree with you. And it's interesting to learn the idea of incorporating maths and sense of responsibility in gardening. I would love to share this with my nieces and nephews. Get each of them to adopt a sunflower and let them attend to it! Brilliant idea! It's better than having them playing gameboy or watching tv. Thanks!

ninasgardeningnotebook said...

I think it's lovely you are encouraging your children to grow things, and I agree that fast growers will hold their interest better. I remember as a child having strawberry plants and runner beans and I thought they were great as you got flowers and something to eat. Also antirrhiniums as they were great to play snap dragons with!

beth said...

Sue, this is great! I am working on a post right now about gardening with my daughter. I am so happy to read yours. My daughter (4) and I are going to plant sunflower seeds this weekend. :)

Love the post!

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