In the summer months, it's sometimes hard to keep kids out of the garden, especially if you've marked off an area just for them to grow their own vegetables and flowers. But what about winter, when chilly temperatures force you inside? What can you do to keep your children interested in gardening? The answer is "plenty!" Here are some ideas to get you started thinking about indoor gardening projects for your family, scout troop, or other youth group. I'm sure you'll come up with others.
Try cultivating a windowsill garden when the snowdrifts keep your kids inside. All you need is a sunny spot and a few containers of soil. Herbs are an excellent choice for windowsill gardens.
What kid wouldn't be fascinated by an insect-eating plant? Many garden centers sell Venus flytraps in their houseplant section. Then visit your library or search the Internet for more information on the natural habitat and growth habits of this unusual plant.
Watch seeds sprout.
Line a glass jar with a damp paper towel and insert several zucchini seeds between the glass and the towel. Place a lid on the jar, leave it on the kitchen counter, and check the paper every day to make sure it's still moist. Seeds should sprout in a few days. Or try bush beans instead of zucchini.
Read a book.
Books like Peter Rabbit or The Secret Garden can spark your child's interest in gardening. Ask your local librarian or bookstore owner for other suggestions.
Decorate while you wait.
Let kids indulge their natural creativity by painting inexpensive terra cotta pots to use next spring, for repotting houseplants this winter, or for birthday and thank you gifts. Kid-safe, durable paints can be purchased at most craft shops.
Get a jump on spring.
Plan a visit to your local garden center to buy seeds. Or let your child help select varieties from the seed catalogs. Then start seeds indoors to plant outside after the last frost. Ask the experts at your garden center or check your favorite gardening book to determine when to start seeds.
Line a large cardboard box with a garbage bag. Fill it with soil, organic matter, and a few worms. Keep it shady and moist, but not too wet. Add kitchen scraps (vegetables only!) Worms will help teach your kids about the interdependence of plants and organisms as they turn vegetable kitchen scraps into valuable compost.
There are several projects you can try with your kids, depending on their age and interest, such as hand-painted plant markers or homemade whirligigs to put between rows to frighten off birds. Your local craft store should have all the supplies you need.
Carefully place some soil and a few mosses and plants (with roots) inside a clean mayonnaise jar. Keep your indoor garden moist with a plant mister, and cover the opening with clear plastic wrap.
Feed the birds.
Stock up on birdseed and suet at your local garden center, and feed the birds this winter. Have your child keep a record of all the species of birds that come to the feeder and what date each first was spotted.
Draw or paint faces on small clay pots, and then fill with soil. Plant grass seed, water, and watch the "hair" grow (aka the Chia Pet technique).
Build a birdhouse.
Birdhouse kits and plans are available at most garden centers and craft shops. This is a great activity for a cold winter's night.
The sooner we can get our children interested in gardening and the natural world around them, the better the earth’s future will be. All it takes is one activity with a child to get them hooked, and it all started with a lima bean seed for me in elementary school. Who would’ve known?