GARDENING IN IOWA

There's learning to be done outside

FROM THE GROUND UP | LINN COUNTY MASTER GARDENER

Amber Mullen's son, Patrick, 2, helps his mom garden. Children learn best with hands-on helps with learning. Getting dir
Amber Mullen’s son, Patrick, 2, helps his mom garden. Children learn best with hands-on helps with learning. Getting dirty also is part of the fun for children.
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We’re in a whole new world and many of us are now home-schoolers by default. We want to find ways to make it fun and effortless, but we can’t leave our house. And many folks want to grow a “quarantine garden” and they’re asking how to get started. My garden adventures are more popular than ever (who’s the nerd now?).

I can show you that your backyard, a garden and Mother Nature are the best home schoolteachers (and so are you).

Show Them The Ecosystem in Their Own Backyard

Some animals and insects spend their whole life cycle in your backyard. For example, we named our resident squirrel Mr. Squirrel (don’t judge), and we say good morning to him almost every day. My kids love seeing him, listening to him and watching him do his thing every day.

You can take it a step further and create a wildlife habitat and certify it with the National Wildlife Federation. If you build it, they will come. (I had to say that. #sorrynotsorry). See www.nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/Certify.

Let Them Get Dirty

What’s the best part about being a kid? Getting dirty. There’s a lot of learning in a rainstorm or when digging in the dirt. Have them hold a seed, tell you what they notice and put it in a hole and cover it up. These are the moments they’ll remember forever. Kids learn best hands-on. Find worms with them, transplant plants, dig. Don’t worry about muddy toes or fingers, bubble baths can be learning too.

Don’t Forget the Pollinators

Flowers can be as important as veggies in your garden. Your kids will squeal every time a butterfly or hummingbird enters your space. They’ll feel like they found treasure when they find a caterpillar on your milkweed. That opens up a discussion about how important that caterpillar’s job is. Did you know bees take naps on the flowers in your garden? Teach kids to watch where they step in case there’s a napping bee there. I watched my kids go from scared at a buzzing bee to telling their friends to “Relax and leave them alone — they have important jobs.” Proud mommy moment right there!

Plant a Garden to Woo Your Children

Plant things you know your kids like. They’ll be excited to watch it grow, tend it, and be proud to have been part of the project. Grow flowers and make bouquets for neighbors and ding-dong-dash, leaving the goods on the front step as a surprise. If the kids like pizza, grow tomatoes and herbs and make sauce together. Or make fairy houses and flower crowns. The learning will happen without them even knowing it.

Visit the Isu Extension and Outreach Website

We’re lucky to have one of the leading universities in agriculture and horticulture in our own backyard. Having this ace in our pocket gives us an advantage to teach our kids about where our food comes from and how gardening affects our world. There are a lot of publications you can use when teaching your kids. Just go to store.extension.iastate.edu and look at everything in the “Yard & Garden” tab.

I hope you find these tips useful and fun because that’s what it’s all about, having fun and making memories. The learning will come easier than you think.

For gardening questions call the Linn County Extension Hortline at (319) 447-0647.

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