Fresh ideas for spring wildlife gardening with kids
Families benefit from gardening together
“When young people help plant a garden it helps to reconnect them to nature,” says David Mizejewski, National Wildlife Federation’s naturalist, writer, host, and TV personality. “Gardening helps kids and teens learn about animals and their habitats, and gardens act as outdoor classrooms where kids hone their academic skills and nurture their curiosity.”
Tips for parents and grandparents
Share your love of being outdoors with your kids or grandkids. Here are some tips for making gardening with kids an educational, safe and enjoyable experience for the entire family:
- Visit places where plants thrive, such as nurseries, arboretums or your neighbor’s flower patch. As children explore, talk with them about the different sun, soil, and water requirements of healthy vegetation.
- Survey the natural treasures in your own backyard—birds (www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for-Wildlife/Gardening-Tips/How-to-Attract-Birds-to-Your-Garden.aspx), bees, blossoms. Children are notably wide-eyed and open to new discoveries. Cultivate their curiosity.
- Identify a spot on your property for a children’s garden, inviting kids to take part in its selection. NWF recommends a small plot of land—no wider than a yardstick—that can be easily managed. Other good options include window boxes or containers.
- Have your soil tested for lead as children are highly susceptible to poisoning. If its presence is confirmed, focus on container gardening or consider building a raised bed and filling it with loam you purchase.
- Sow fast-germinating seeds or introduce transplants that are quick to flower or fruit. (Children are typically eager to see the results of their labor.) Be sure to include kids in the plant selection process.
- Choose plants that will excite the senses. Examples include eye-catching sunflowers (www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/1998/Grow-Native-Sunflowers.aspx), fragrant herbs (www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2001/Season-Your-Yard-with-Native-Herbs.aspx) and ornamental grasses such as big and little bluestem.
- Woo wildlife, which will wow your kids, by focusing on perennials that are native to your region. Native plants provide the best overall food sources for backyard birds and other animals, and because they are adapted to your area’s weather, soils and pests, they generally require less maintenance. For information about plants native to your area, contact your local native plant society or check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s native plant database at www.wildflower.org/explore.
- Add other wildlife-attracting elements to your habitat: water, shelter and places to raise young. NWF suggests building toad homes (www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2006/Backyard-Houses-for-Toads.aspx), brush piles, a pond (www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for-Wildlife/Gardening-Tips/Tipsheets.aspx) and a bat house (www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for-Wildlife/Gardening-Tips/Build-a-Bat-House.aspx).
- Provide kid-sized tools and teach young gardeners how to use them safely. Equipment can be found in most garden stores, but don’t overlook at-home options such as spoons and measuring cups.
- Eliminate use of toxic chemical fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides. When necessary, use natural alternatives (www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for-Wildlife/Gardening-Tips/Wildlife-Friendly-Fertilizers.aspx) instead.
- Practice good hygiene. When it comes to gardening, getting dirty is half the fun for children (www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/Media-Center/News-by-Topic/Get-Outside/2012/04-12-12-Getting-the-Dirt-on-Dirt-for-Healthier-Happier-Children.aspx). Make sure they wash up well after working in the soil, as it can contain a variety of contaminants, including chemicals and harmful bacteria.
- Encourage children to do a share of all the garden chores but be mindful of their limits.
- Visit the garden with your kids every day to make sure you don’t miss its rewards: flowers opening, butterflies sipping nectar, ladybugs eating aphids.
- Take advantage of teaching moments. If you uncover a pill bug on the ground, for instance, explain that its roly-poly posture is a means of defense. If your children pose questions you can’t address, seek out the answers together. A visit to the library or Internet might be part of the journey to discovery.
- Encourage children to share their garden with friends and family. Giving tours reinforces their ownership of it and helps instill a sense of pride.
- Invite reflections of each day’s gardening experiences: Talk about what went on, what was seen and so on. If time permits, have kids draft notes in a journal, draw a picture or take photographs. All of these actions serve to reinforce what was learned—and enjoyed.
For additional gardening tips and information about turning your garden into a Certified Wildlife Habitat, please go to www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife. For other ideas about how to work outdoor time into your family’s routine, please visit: www.beoutthere.org.
National Wildlife Federation is America's largest conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future.