I’ve been hearing the term “dreaming season” tossed around here at Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. I love that image. In the gray, soggy dreamland of winter, I’ve been drawing up garden plans in old notebooks and wandering around the yard muttering to myself. This year though, I haven’t even started on my vegetable garden plans because I’ve been completely sidetracked by another whim. I’m planning the “perfect” wildlife garden for kids.
What Makes a “Kid-Friendly” Wildlife Garden?
Yeah, so maybe “perfect” is a bit extreme! I’ll settle for “pretty cool” and move on from there. Let’s talk about what makes a wildlife garden pretty cool for kids.
#1: Opportunities for free play.
Planned activities are fine. Sometimes kids need them to get started, especially when they aren’t used to being turned loose outside and told to “go play.” However, once they get started, they can usually come up with their own ideas (if we get out of the way).
A kid-friendly garden has free-play spaces that don’t have “don’t touch, don’t walk, don’t dig” rules attached. Sticks, rocks, digging tools, and buckets are conveniently available. Exploration is encouraged. The dirtiest child receives the award!
#2: Opportunities to interact with wildlife.
If you are gardening for wildlife, chances are good you’ve got a plethora of worms, beetles, pill bugs, and other kid-pleasing invertebrates already hanging around. A few well-placed flowers, boards, animal hidey-holes (to peak into), kid hidey-holes (to hide in for better animal viewing), and small brush piles will make these creatures even more accessible to little eyes.
#3: Appropriate boundaries.
I’m a strong advocate of “do touch” in nature education. I believe the “hands off” approach does not endear kids to nature and ultimately will lead to a generation apart from the natural world. I do recognize, however, that nature also needs its space and that the wrong kind of disturbance can have unintended consequences. It’s all about balance.
In our yard, areas around occupied bird boxes become temporary “no play” zones. We have brush piles that are not designed to be explored and tangled hedgerows that do not invite fort construction. Kids receive instruction about the proper handling of wildlife. Sometimes we “look, but don’t touch.” Even my littlest nieces are quickly able to grasp the concept of respecting other life forms and interacting with care. A little education goes a long way.
The Grand Plans
All of my plans for the year fall under one of the three categories discussed above. Here are a few I hope to work on and revisit in blog posts later in the year. Stay tuned!
- Create free play collections of rocks, sticks, and digging tools.
- Create a diggin’ spot.
- Plant more native shrubs (sadly, no more trees will fit on our little lot, which is only about 9,000 square feet).
- Put up and monitor more nest boxes.
- Invite mason bees to the yard.
- Create more water features—butterfly puddles, water pail bogs, and the like.
- Plant more hummingbird/butterfly-friendly plants, including natives.
- Create more creature hidey-holes.
- Create a straw bale climbing spot.
A Book to Get You Started
I’ve been plotting and planning this list for several weeks. Recently, I picked up a book at the library and discovered most of my brilliant ideas already in its pages. It is quite possibly the coolest kids’ wildlife gardening book ever. I have to admit that I’m a little annoyed that someone already wrote it, but that’s an occupational hazard. So, if you don’t want to wait around to get started, check out:
- Kids in the Wild Garden, by Elizabeth McCorquodale
Now It’s Your Turn!
Grab a notebook a notebook and pencil. It’s your turn to wander around the yard. (You can mutter to yourself if you want—I won’t stare.) Better yet, take the kids with you. Note the areas that attract their attention. They might be good for expanding into free play spots. Where could you add a little habitat? Do you see the perfect digging spot?
Maybe your kids are a little older, like mine. How about creating the perfect reading spot? Maybe a sit spot for time away? (Hmmmm, maybe I’ll add a hammock to the list of ideas.) Maybe your kids are old enough to help you put in a pond? Are they ready for their own garden plot?
Okay, I’ll stop talking so you can go outside and dream!
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