By Jill Brooke
My pal Sarah Kowitz taught me so much about gardening. Resourceful and knowledgable, she owns Fairlight Hall in Hastings, England, one of the country’s most extraordinary gardens. To her, the garden is a source of adventure and opportunity.
Recently Kowitz’s head gardener, John Myers, offered suggestions to English Garden Magazine on what we can do with our families when cooped up in the house due to social distancing orders related to the coronavirus. After speaking to Kowitz, we’ve adapted those great suggestions. Here are nine great things to do outdoors with your kids, or solo.
This can be down in your own backyard, from a window on a balcony or while walking in a local park. First, count all the trees in a particular area and identify them. Then play a game trying to figure out the species of each one. Ask how many years the tree may have been there? What history the trees quietly witnessed? There are many identification guides on the internet. One we like is PlantSnapp and Plantifier. We also like Flower Checker.
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Ask the kids to identify how many species of plants you have in your lawn. Mark an area for each kid perhaps. Then have them write or say what plants they see. For example, daisies, crocus, clover, dandelions and daffodils may be blooming.
Then challenge everyone to find out a fun fact about each of the flowers.
Choose favorite toys, packets of seeds, maybe packages of snacks or well-placed envelopes with bon mots inside. Hide it around the garden for kids to find. Sort of a precursor to Easter bunny hunt.
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In fact, you can even create a map with clues. Let them find a letter that leads to the next hiding place.
For example, one letter could say –
“In the green grass of our lawn,
You can find something brown.
So go off like a leprechaun and find your inner clown.
The tree with the next clue has a daffodil growing nearby
Now it’s up to you to try and identify –
Have fun – Mom”
Look for bugs in the garden. Find all the secluded places they may live along with your family. Look under pots, leaves or by trees. Write down all the names of the bugs and then go on the internet to identify them. Maybe think of growing a bee-friendly garden or seek flowers that attract butterflies.
Here’s another great idea from John. Assemble sticks in a pile in the corner of the garden. This will become a wonderful home for all the wonderful local bug residents and may even help you with your bug count. After all, we are going to be in this new normal for a few more weeks.
Okay, so you can’t go to a restaurant. And you may be sick of being at home. Go for a picnic. All you need is a blanket. Have the kids help make the meal for this adventure. Pretend you are on a fantasy island. What would you eat? What do they want to eat? Make everything fun.
We never have the time for much because we are always in a rush. However, bird watching can be a fun activity. It’s a hobby that requires patience and time. Set a timer. Depending on the age of children, consider half-hour or hour. And then lie on the blanket – or if not on a picnic while walking – and notice the birds. Listen to the birds. And then again try to identify the birds you see. Take a picture. Maybe you will find some nests. Or see birds in the sky. Any natural setting will likely have birds to look at in new ways.
Pick a place in your lawn and turn over the soil several times. From the Internet, buy some wildflower seeds. Over the next month, your kids and you can observe the colorful blooms sprouting on the lawn.
This can also be done with pots with vegetables and flowers.
Make a project looking at the seeds available that you can order. This can also be an in-house project as well. Especially with herbs. Kids can water the plants and see them grow.
We have written often about the joys of teaching your kids how to garden. Perhaps earmark a special place for each child to create their own garden and choose what flowers or vegetables they want to plant.
Mom may not love this but it could be interesting. Get any large bowl you have – and put it outside. John says it could become a surprising resting place for frogs and toads. It will also double as a water source for birds. That means you will have more to identify.
Life is beautiful. Wherever you are, people see the same stars in the sky. Enjoy the miracle of life. Start looking for star constellations. Make it a fun game. Try to identify constellations like the Milky Way. Also, this may be a fun time to start naming the planets and think of the larger world and universe.
What I like about John’s suggestions is that it encourages us to focus on the simple pleasures of togetherness and nature.
Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD.
Photo Credit: Pixabay, Fairlight Hall