A vegetable garden is not just for summer. If you have young children exploring the winter vegetable garden is one of the best things to break the boredom and “cabin fever” of rainy and/or cold days. Children maintain the same energy levels and need for exploration and learning in winter as they do for the rest of the year. Let them outside to burn-off some of that energy to discover the wonders of the winter vegetable garden. Children have a strong sense of curiosity, they love to get wet and dirty, to become immersed in and feel the earth and natural environment as they discover new things.
A word to the mums – forget the dirty muddy mess and watch your children’s eyes light up, shining brightly as they enjoy the freedom to play and get wet and dirty if they wish. Enjoy the laughter and energy and listening to their adventure and explanations of the things they have discovered.
With a little planning, a set of old clothes and gum boots and a towel at the back door, winter provides many wonderful learning opportunities for the kids.
I have said many times here that I am not a huge fan of the winter weather. It will never be my favourite season of the year. I prefer warmth but I also need to maintain my sanity and keep my children from turning the house up-side-down during a spell of wet and cold days. Heading outside for a short period of time is all it takes to restore harmony to the day and a renewed focus when returning indoors.
The winter vegetable garden
Winter vegetable gardens can be very rewarding. While some of the plants are very slow to grow, many will provide quick rewards.
These plants include: parsley, spinach, bok choi, radish, and lettuce.
If you have limited garden space skip the slow growing onions, cabbage and broccoli and try the fast growing greens listed above. They are all easy to grow and will add wonderful nutritional value and flavour to your meals.
Rug up warmly and pull on your gumboots there is much to explore outside in the garden at this time of year:
Aside from helping to monitor and look after the vegetables we are growing at this time of year, here are a few things that make my boys excited to head outside to the garden in winter.
Explore the details
My eight year old son currently enjoys exploring the finer details of how things work – plants, machines, people and processes – he is keen to find out how they function.
The changing seasons provide a constant revolving study of plant development, and elements of nature including germination, regeneration and decay. Plants provide great study material, as does the soil, insects and the animal life that accompanies the seasons.
We recently made a bug/insect hotel to attract and shelter beneficial insects in the garden. It is a fun activity to do with the kids in winter before insects are seeking a spring shelter. We are eagerly awaiting new residents moving in to the home we created for them.
Explore the soil
Developing an understanding of soil health is part of appreciating how our environment works and the connection between, plants, people and the environment. My eight year old loves to do soil pH tests to see how our soil is coming along. My 5 year old has recently begun to enjoy this activity also. It is a good tool to explain how the soil supports worms, plant growth and health. You can create a larger project around this experiment by starting to compost if you are not already doing so, or tending to your compost if you have some in progress. Compost helps to balance and replenish the soil, recycle kitchen waste, feed worms and provide nutrients for strong healthy plants.
Keeping compost active so that it is ready to fill your spring garden is an important winter activity. It requires stirring on a regular basis and may need to be covered if you are experiencing, or expecting a wet winter.
Create an environmental study
Create a comparative study of plant growth over the period of winter and summer using a plant such as lettuce. Start capturing the information in winter – record all the elements of growth your children think of such as:
- the time it takes for the seed to germinate
- the time it takes from planting the seed until it is large enough to go into the garden
- the first harvest
Compare these results for the same process in spring, and then again summer.
If your children are over 8 years old you could also explore the factors that influence the results such as the weather, compost or additions to the soil between or before plantings, and how much care the plant was given.
Assist your children to take notes and review them once they have some comparisons to explore.
This activity encourages patience, written skills, observation, research and analytic skills as well as an understanding of environmental factors and seasonality on plant growth.
General garden care
There are always new seeds to plant, mud pies to be made, tunnels to be tug, experiments to create, treasure hunts to complete and car tracks to be made in a winter garden if you are seeking more activities.
Yesterday in our garden after school some rhubarb “accidentally” got picked. This little accidental harvest somehow led to a discussion about dessert…. the natural next step when everyone is washed up and warm again inside is a baking activity. It is a wonderful transition from the garden back to the house.
It really does take minimal effort from an adult to keep the kids occupied in a winter garden. The kids will be happy to have the freedom to get dirty and choose their own adventure and avenue to explore if you allow them to.
Pin the image below as a reminder of some activities to occupy your children in the impending school holidays.
Do your children like to explore the garden in winter? What is their favourite activity?
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