{ Archive for the ‘kids’ Category }

National Sun Awareness Week

After what felt like an eternity of cold winter weather, the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining and we can all get back out into the garden.

Whether you’re building raised flowerbeds, mowing the lawn or simply enjoying afternoons on the patio, we can’t forget the importance of summer suncare – and what better way to remind us than the Canadian Dermatology Association’s annual, nationwide Sun Awareness Week.

Before heading outside to enjoy the warm weather, here are a few helpful tips you should remember.
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Join Canadian Gardening at the 2014 Toronto Flower Market!

The Toronto Flower Market returns to the city this Saturday, May 10. Debuting at its new location in the heart of Queen West (1056 Queen St. W. between Ossington and Dovercourt), this outdoor flower and plant market brings stalls of bright blooms to the city just in time for Mother’s Day.

{Illustration by Courtney Wotherspoon}

To help celebrate the start of its 2014 season, Canadian Gardening will be participating in the festivities and we’re inviting you to join, too!
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The digging of the potatoes

After plugging them into the ground in early June, my potatoes have lived without the interference of human attention. Unless you count the sprinkler blanketed over the whole garden. My mom is visiting this week and she keeps asking what she can help with (!!). So far, she’s washed every dish as soon as it was dirtied and made some serious headway with the laundry. To spare her from reading the same Dora the Explorer picture book for the tenth time, I suggested we head outside and dig the last of the veggies. My youngest daughter had to get in on the action, of course. She seems way more excited about these potatoes than the ones I have put on her plate before. Think she’ll start eating them now?

How simple gardening is

I have so much to do in the garden right now, but we’re in the middle of a heat wave and I’ve completely lost motivation for weeding, raking, mowing… pretty much everything except sitting, and filling and emptying water glasses. I know things are only getting worse, but I can’t even care right now, between being overwhelmed and being hot.

I did spend some time with my first-grader, going through the marvellous stack of papers he’s brought home from school. (I know, they’ve been waiting for two full weeks. Sue me.) Amongst them I found this, which is now going to live, framed, in my shed, as a sweet reminder not to over-complicate the joy of growing.

It's one of these cut-it-out-and-put-it-in-the-right-order things. As fun as it is to revel in the details, sometimes it just comes down to this, doesn't it?

 

 

 

 

Five great gardening picture books to share

Ah, summer. The days are warm, the garden’s up, the hammock and a novel beckons… but as the kids are out of school, I’ll need to make some room in the hammock for them too, and before I get to my novel, there will be some kids books to read. Luckily, I have a soft spot for great picture books, and it will be nothing short of a pleasure to go through a stack of stories to be read aloud. And if they’re about gardens and plants? Who can argue.

Here’s a list of a few favourites of mine on the theme of gardening; there are many, many more out there; check your local library and go find a kid at the family reunion if you don’t have any at home. Sharing a book is a great way to pass on your love of gardening. But really, you can enjoy these wonderful stories yourself, even if you don’t have the excuse of a child at your side.

 

The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown

I am forever grateful to my friend Erika for leading me to this book. It has a slightly mischievous feel to it that I love, as little Liam’s adopted garden starts sneaking out into the big grey city and changing the landscape for the better. An environmental statement perhaps, but told with a light hand and coloured with playful images.

 

The Tiny Seed, by Eric Carle

 

The life cycle of a flowering plant seems like the stuff for science textbooks, but in the hands of the masterful Eric Carle, it becomes a story full of beauty, drama, and insight. If you aren’t familiar with this author/artist, bring home The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Busy Spider, and the Mixed-Up Chameleon as well.

The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart, illustrations by David Small

A young girl is sent from her beloved farm to her uncle’s city bakery to help the Depression-struck family stay afloat. She brings with her a bundle of nerves and a suitcase full of flower seeds, and attempts the impossible: getting a smile out of Uncle Jim. An engaging, ‘bloom where you are planted’ story with Caldecott Honor-winning illustrations. Don’t miss it.

 

Growing Vegetable Soup, by Lois Elkhart

 

Lois Elkhart’s signature paper-cut art takes you through the planting, watering, and growing of all the veggies Father and child want in their soup. Bold colours and labeled objects make this a fun talk-about book for the curious set. Try the provided recipe, too!

 

And Then It’s Spring, by Julie Fogliano, illustrations by Erin E. Stead

Okay, so maybe a little off season right now, but the woodcut and pencil illustrations are just gorgeous, and the simple, sparse poetry of the story so inviting when read aloud. (There’s a “greenish hum” coming from the ground! I wish I wrote that.) The anticipation of spring is perfectly captured, and the fun little details in the pictures will have you going through it again and again. And your preschooler compatriots, too.

 

Giving a little back to the kids

This has been a strange week for me. Not once, but twice, I’ve been asked to help teach about gardening and plants.

Me.

Who has managed to kill all the tomato seedlings I planted this year by leaving them in the chilly porch overnight. Who knows the terms pinnate and palmate, but couldn’t define them accurately to save my life. Who seeds her garden beds in such a haphazard way that surely my grandfather rolls in his grave every spring.

To be sure, the teaching invitations did not come because I’m some kind of superstar with green thumbs; I was an obvious choice by association. One was for my daughter’s grade 4-5 science class, the other the local Cub Scout troupe which just happens to be led by Dear Husband.

But despite the low-key circumstances, I was just a teeny bit nervous. Would I be able to get through my presentations without making any obvious blunders? What if someone asked a question I couldn’t answer? (If you think this is a silly thing to worry about, I’m guessing you don’t hang out with a lot of ten-year-olds.) But more than anything, I wondered and worried whether any of them would even care about anything I had to say. What if they all thought it was lame and B-O-R-I-N-G?

Turns out I worried for nothing. In both cases, the kids were fun, polite, and excited to be there. The Cubs started pumpkins in little pots and helped prepare the garden bed they will use this summer. The 4-5 class helped me dissect a just-bloomed tulip, played name-that-seed-and-why-it-looks-that-way, and got very involved in a discussion of how all life on earth is dependent on plants in one way or another. I answered questions left and right. I got my ego pampered as they admired my “talent” (no one tell them about the tomatoes, okay?).

Most of all, though, it reinforced a truth I’ve always believed in: giving something back to your community, no matter how little you might think it is, pays off for everyone. So I challenge you this week to think about how you might give a little of your garden back: Is there someone you could teach something? Did you plant trees for Earth Day? Can you plant an extra row of veggies to donate to the food bank? Volunteer in a community garden?

While you work on that, I’ll concentrate on keeping the Cub’s pumpkins alive…

 

How to garden with kids: Part 2

Weeds.

Just like death and taxes.

The question is not what to do with them so much as it is how.

I woke up early the other morning and decided to get outside before it got too hot. I couldn’t believe how much I accomplished in one hour! Why? No phone ringing, no appointments to race against, not cleaning soil out of anyone’s mouth, or negotiating settlement in custody suits over the best toys. No sun beating down, either.

It was a wonderful experience, however rare. The daytime routine usually involves doorbells, babies eating dirt, and irate Tonka truck drivers.

But daytime also means I usually have at least a couple of helpers of the smaller size.

Again, the question is not what to do with them (teach them the value of hard work) so much as it is how.

Insistence? Indeed. Bribery? Occasionally.

1. I remember my mom asking us kids, as teenagers, to help in the garden for just 15 minutes, a couple of times a week. I and my siblings often ended up staying a little longer than that, just to finish the row we were on, or to pick a few raspberries for dessert. I tried this with my young kids. Well, they’re no dummies. Get the clock running, then go find your sunhat, then chose a different tool, then deliberate over which vegetable needs your attention… 15 minutes is gone in no time! So while I may go back to the 15-minute strategy when they get older, my kids are now each assigned a bucket. Fill the bucket with weeds, you’re free. It’s a visual, finite goal they can wrap their heads around. Depending on their age and the desperateness of your situation, use ice cream pails or half-gallon honey buckets. Try sharing a big trug, but be warned, you may end up with accusations over who’s working and who isn’t. It didn’t take them long to figure out that if they pull the biggest weeds, the bucket fills faster, which is great, because those are the ones I want gone the most!

2. I expect a certain level of help from my kids, but I do offer to pay a specified rate for full buckets beyond the required one.

3. I have been known to offer “today only” specials for kids wanting to earn a little coin: when the dandelions were about to set seed this spring, I was paying a dime per root. I’ve spent ten bucks on worse things. (Don’t do the math, please.)

4. As much as a slave driver as I can be, I try to make the experience as pleasant as possible. We like to do our veggie gardening in the evening, when it’s cooler, and we like to visit while we work.

5. If you’ve got more than one kid, like me, experiment with working either all together or one on one, taking turns. You can get a lot done together, but it’s easier to teach one on one without distractions and you can give that child some special attention while the others play.

6. I know a woman who told her kids, “Go pick green beans/peas. Each bean/pea you pick earns you one minute at the dam (the go-to beach two minutes from town).” They were set on earning at least an hour.

7. I learned a lesson from six-year-old Avery this week: he was messing around, not helping at all, while we were cleaning up some suckers around mature trees and the grass around some newly planted ones. He said, “I wish I had a forest right here that I could play army in.” I said, “That’s what we’re working on, Avery. These trees will grow up into a forest if we take good care of them.” Darned if he didn’t dive in and get to work.

How to garden with (and around) kids: Part 1

There is no shortage of information out there on gardening with kids. There’s lots of talk about the lessons children can learn and the fun that can be had in the garden. There are lots of ideas, lots of inspiration, lots of encouragement, but unfortunately, not a whole lot of reality.

Don’t get me wrong, I think kids belong in the garden. It can be fun, healthy, educational. I’m a big believer in slave labor… I mean, helpers. And there are some really great books out there (one I’ll recommend for schoolagers: Kids in the Garden by Elizabeth McCorquodale, Black Dog Publishing).

But as a mother of five, I’m here to tell you, the vast majority of the stuff you’ll see about kids and gardens is written through rose-colored glasses (no pun intended). It’s not all about cute little yellow trowels and robust bean vines in terracotta pots. Sometimes you’re cajoling a ten-year-old to pull her share of weeds with a toddler clinging to your leg and soccer practice only half an hour away.

So here’s a few of my ideas, if you’re up for a little reality check:

1. There will be casualties. Accept this. They don’t know they just stepped all over your freshly planted annuals; they’re just chasing butterflies. Not every seed will sprout if planted by a three-year-old an inch deeper than it should have been, but really, is that the point? Resist the urge to redo their efforts. I’ve been known to build little fences out of fallen twigs around newly planted “please don’t walk here” spots. (Actually, this is a great kid job if the ground is soft.)

2. When you’ve got a wandering toddler who’s as likely to yank up a lily as a dandelion, getting much of anything done can be frustrating. You can wait until nap time or trade babysitting, but if you can shift your mindset away from accomplishing one particular task, a great strategy is to wear an apron with hand tools in it. Then just follow your little person around as he explores, digging a weed, pruning a limb, tying a floppy stem as you go. You’ll be surprised how much you can get done this way. (You can also use a bucket or tote of tools, but watch out: Murphy’s Law says Baby will find the scissors or knife as soon as you look away. Not that this has ever happened to me. Ahem.)

3. It’s true that having kid-size tools and gloves helps make it more fun and easier for kids to help. It’s harder than you think to use a full size (and weight!) rake when you’re only four feet tall. But just as important: some toys, games and space for them to play. Kids have short attention spans. Inevitably, you will want to work longer than they will, and it really cuts down on the whining if they’ve got a sandbox or a hammock to retreat to as a reward or break. And for the smaller ones, it means you can keep an eye on them without having someone hanging out in your lap.

4. For you it might be about color schemes and cultivars, but for kids it’s about being there. Weeds are pretty; dandelion seeds are meant to be blown. Don’t kill their joy with your vision or schedule. I’ve been that yelling mom and I can tell you two things: one, it doesn’t change the situation, and two, it’s detrimental to the kid’s attitude. You’ll still have unpicked weeds and they’ll not be in much mood to help the next time you ask.

5. Mulch is your friend. It is every gardener’s friend, but especially to a gardener with children. It buys you time and saves you work. Make the investment.

6. Never say the words, “Let’s plant some seeds today” to a three to five year old until you are absolutely, entirely, earnestly, ready to get them in the soil.

7. The things you hear about ownership are true. Once a kid has “her” tree, or “his” tomato plant, it will be watered and weeded proudly with only occasional gentle reminders (especially if there’s a lingering lesson from last season of something that died of neglect. Just saying. Not from experience or anything.). We have a “kid garden” where I’ve done some structural planting and they get to plant whatever else they want. Each of my older girls has a rose bush that they do everything for (including the pruning, with some pointers). My six year old plants sunflowers every year. He keeps track of how tall they grow and which one gets the biggest flower. And you won’t find any weeds surviving at their bases.

8. A watering can in the hands of a three year old is a powerful weapon. Direct it well, and you’ll lighten your load. Allow it to be unleashed on the unsuspecting though, and you may have some flood victims.

9. Patience. Cultivate it along with your plants. It takes a seed time to germinate, flower, and set fruit. A child is no different. Don’t expect fruit when he’s just learning how to flower.

Gardening with Michelle Obama on Sesame Street

The U.S. First Lady, Michelle Obama will be making a special guest appearance on Sesame Street to kick off the children’s television shows 40th anniversary season.

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Richard Termine / Handout / Reuters

With the help of Elmo, Big Bird and a few eager gardeners-in-training, Obama will be demonstrating how to plant a vegetable garden using tomato, cucumber and lettuce seeds. Obama’s appearance is part of Sesame Street’s Health & Wellness Initiatives.

This isn’t the first time Obama has been an advocate for gardening. This past March, she had the first fruit and vegetable garden planted at the White House since World War Two. The fruit and produce harvested from the 1,100 sq. ft. garden will be used in the White House kitchen.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Sesame Street and the furry muppets that live, work and play in the friendly neighborhood. I’m so excited that they’re now teaching kids about gardening on the show!

The episode will be airing on television in early November, but check out this sneak peek. I especially love the basket full of talking veggies!