Despite suffering the coldest Easter on record, now is the right time to start thinking about growing plants in the garden - why not plant some vegetables with your little ones and track their growth through a diary project?
Many vegetables are surprisingly easy to grow and nothing tastes better on your plate than a serving of home grown food. Even if you don't have much garden, many vegetables can be grown in containers or pots, even on a patio. Start plants off in a greenhouse or shed, or on a windowsill inside, then plant out once the threat of frost has gone and when the plants are a couple of inches high. Below are some easy veg to grow for great rewards during the summer and autumn:-
Dwarf beans: 'Dwarf' refers to the height of the plant rather than the size of bean. Unlike most beans, the plants grow to just 18 inches (so don't require trellis) and produce copious quantities of long tasty beans. Plant now to crop through the summer.
Courgettes: Courgette plants grow with quite a wide spread, harvest regularly and you will be rewarded with between 10 - 20 fruits per plant so just one or two plants will produce a great crop. Cougettes are abundant and require very little care, you can even plant them in a pot on the patio.
Tomatoes: Traditional tomato plants are quite hard work because they require so much watering. Cherry tomatoes on the other hand are much easier and can be planted in small spaces, even in pots or hanging baskets. Pick the fruit in clusters off the vine and any that are under ripe will quickly ripen after harvest.
Potatoes: Forget the old fashioned way of tilling the ground, buy potato bags that can sit on the ground or patio. Fill them two thirds deep with soil and plant seed potatoes just under the surface. When the plants are established, add more soil to fill the bag. Children will love sifting through the soil at the end of the summer, discovering the potatoes. Plant several bags with different varieties to crop at different times in the summer and autimn.
Pak Choy: Not a traditional British vegetable but terrific in salads and stir fries, and really easy and quick to grow. Plant more seeds every fortnight and you will crop them throughout the summer.
Plant your seeds with your children and make notes. Look at them regularly and draw them at the different stages. Why not create a photo diary in ToucanLearn by photographing them and uploading the pictures to your Daily Diary?
We all realise that young children benefit from being outside, but what you might not appreciate is that they value being given free access to play outside whenever they want. Some children are naturally inclined to remain indoors, and they may need encouragement to play outside, but other children would rather be outdoors than indoors.
Try to allow your little ones to play outside whenever they wish. Obviously outdoor play may not fit in with your routine if you don't have a secure garden or they are so young that they need constant supervision, but if you have a safe outside area then encourage your little ones to take themselves outside whenever they wish to.
Besides the fresh air, there are so many reasons why outdoor play is so important. Children playing outside will interact in different ways to when they are inside. They have space to run or move more quickly, they can jump about without fear of being told off for causing danger! They are able to make more noise than when they are indoors, and they will find objects in the garden to play with that help them explore different materials, such as sticks, stones, plants and so on.
Try to offer a freeflow environment where children can choose to go outside whenever they want. Obviously they may not always be able to go out, but giving them an outdoor option will benefit their development in so many different ways.
All sorts of wonderful things are happening in the garden and parks at this time of year, so lets get out and do some great things with the wonderful wiggly worms, flippy flappy butterflies, busy buzzy bees and all the other bugs in the garden. Have a bit of messy fun and have a great time!
Before you start, go through a few basic rules for the Outdoors to keep the little ones safe and the bugs alive!
- Do not eat anything you find. Some berries can be harmful.
- Don’t touch anything unless a grown up agrees it is safe.
- Do not pick up any bugs or creatures in case they sting or bite you.
- Wash your hands when you have finished in the garden or park./span>
Keep a note book and record what you find.
1. Go for a bug hunt and when you find something draw it in your note book. Or you could photograph it and stick it in. Talk about what it looks like, how many legs it has, what colour it is etc.
2. Make a wormery! Take a tall transparent plastic bottle and cut off the top. Fill with layers of soil with some small pebbles and some grass or leaves on top. Put in a dark place. Place a couple of worms into the wormery and leave. Take a look each day and see if the worms have made tunnels and left worm casts on top of the soil. Set them free after a couple of days.
3. Hide some toy bugs in a sand box and see how quickly you can find them. Count them out and group them in colours.
4. Digging in the garden can be a great activity. Take some spades and dig some holes in flower beds. Talk about how much energy you need to do the job and which parts of the body you are using. When you have a nice howl, sit back and see if any birds come along to search for worms.
5. Snail racing is fun if a grown up is nearby to ensure the safety of the snails. Find two snails, draw a chalk circle on a patio slab and place them side by side in the middle. See which crosses out of the circle first. Does cheering help?
If you have some garden space, why not create a haven for insects and log, with your little ones, what you see over time? Plant flowers and make other insect friendly features. You could start by planting wild flowers from seed and allowing a small section of your garden to 'overgrow'. Let a small patch of grass grow long naturally and sprinkle wildflower seed down. Don't worry if nettles or other weeds grow, these are perfect for insects!
If you want to create an insect garden more quickly you could buy some more established plants from a garden centre. Look for lavenders, budleias, cornflowers and wallflowers. These typical cottage garden plants attract butterflies and other insects.
Ladybirds are a gardeners friend - they live off many other insects regarded as pests, including aphids. You can buy ladybird shelters in most garden centres but you can also make one very easily. Take a plastic drink bottle (1 or 2 litre) and cut the bottom off it. Find a length of corrugated card and cut the width to match the length of the bottle. Roll the card up and place it inside the bottle. Thread some wire through the bottle and the card to keep it in place. Put the 'house' in the garden and see what you attract!
Make a log book with your children. Have them draw pictures of the flowers and insects, and make notes on what days you see different insects. Note which plants you see which insects on and create a project to follow throughout the spring and summer. Talk about the life cycle of insects, especially ones such as butterflies and ladybirds that go through a process of metamorphosis.
Paddling pools are incredibly reasonable at the moment and for a small amount of money you can pick up an inflatable pool that is great fun! Here are a few important tips to keep the children safe in and around the pool.
- Never leave a baby toddler or child in a paddling pool even for the shortest time. It takes a moment for them to slip under the water which can be fatal. Children can drown in the smallest depth of water.
- If you need to leave them to get something, or to answer the front door or the phone, take them out of the pool while you are away. Make it clear they are not allowed to get into the pool without you there. Take small children who may not understand or be able to follow instructions with you, keep them out of the garden while you are absent.
- Check the temperature of the water to make sure it is not too cold (if you've just filled it) or too warm if it's the end of a hot day. With enough sun, the water can get very warm.
- The grass may get wet and slippery around a paddling pool so be aware of the potential for accidents when the children climb out.
- Suncream is essential in the summer so keep the children covered up even when playing in the paddling pool. Keep them in loose clothes (T-shirt and light trousers or leggings) if there is a lot of sun.
- Make sure the children are aware that inside the pool is very slippery. Suggest they kneel rather than stand if unsteady on their feet.
- Keep an eye on any bees or wasps that might find themselves in the pool. Remove them with a slotted spoon to ensure they don't harm or sting the children.
- Make sure the children walk and don't run round the pool so they don't trip and accidentally fall in.
- Remove all toys at the end of the day so no one is tempted to reach in and get something from the pool and accidentally fall in.
- Keep an eye on the dept. After rainfall it could be more full than when you last looked.
Enjoy your pool!
At this time of year there is so much going on in the garden - here are a few ways of introducing some wildlife to your outside space.
- Any bird-feeder whether the most expensive fancy gizmo from a garden centre, or just a plate of seeds on a table will encourage feathery birds into your garden. You may even see something exotic if you're lucky!
- Birdhouses: Fit a couple of bird boxes or reed bird houses in your garden to encourage birds to stay and move in! Site them fairly high and in well sheltered positions.
- Plant flowers that attract insects such as lavender, thyme and Buddleia.
- For bugs and ladybirds, and even frogs if you're lucky, keep a pile of old branches or logs in a shady spot. They will be attracted to the warm, dark, damp atmosphere and will set up home. Not one for those mums scared of spiders!
- A water bath can be as simple as a saucer of water and this will encourage birds to bath or drink in the garden.
- Worms and centipedes love compost so how about create a compost heap or compost bin and encourage some long, slithery worms to the garden.
- Throw some wild flower seeds on a patch of soil or grass. The pretty flowers will grown and provide a meadow-like patch which is really pretty and easy to maintain.
- Try not to cultivate all areas of the garden. Leave some damp leaves or grass cuttings in a pile to welcome bugs frogs, hedgehogs and spiders looking for a home.
- Take cuttings from friends and family and plant your own trees and shrubs for free! Just pop any cuttings into a pot of soil and see how your garden grows! Great fun!
Most of all, get the children involved and get them muddy too! Nothing is more exciting for a toddler or pre-schooler than dirty hands, mucky knees and a brown, muddy smudge on their nose! Start a diary project and draw what you do and what you observe in the garden.
It's nearly spring, so why not make your garden into a wildlife garden and encourage some furry, buzzy and fluttery friends into the garden. Lovely for the children to watch and a chance to plant some pretty shrubs and trees. Here are some ideal plants to think about putting in this spring in order to attract wildlife:-
- Soft fruits: Blackberries, raspberries and red currents are loved by insects and birds. You may have to keep a few under a net to actually get a chance to eat any yourself!
- Dandelions: Many of us pull up the yellow blossom of dandelions, but they are a great favourite with bees and other buzzing insects; finches love their seeds.
- Honeysuckle: The berries are devoured by all sorts of birds, the nectar by buzzing bees.
- Lavender: The lovely scent of lavender attracts all sorts of bees and insects. Lovely to watch them merrily buzz around and a great mellow fragrance for the garden.
- Sunflowers: The sunny yellow flowers are loved by bees and the seeds are often eaten by birds.
- Buddleia: loved by butterflies and the pretty purple clusters of flowers have a stunning effect when in flower.
This weekend is dedicated to our garden birds - the country’s biggest survey takes place with families all over the country grabbing pens and paper to record what birds come to their gardens. Teach your children about the different birds to be seen in your garden, talk about the different colours and how to identify each type of bird.
To participate in the bird survey, simply go out into your garden or to a local park and sit for an hour (quietly!) and watch for birds. Note down what species you see and count them as you spot them. They must land in the garden or park rather than fly over.
When you have observed for an hour, and have your results, simply log your findings on the RSPB website (www.rspb.org.uk). There is a handy print out sheet on the site too to help identify the birds and, you can get a copy of last year’s results too. Why not have your little ones draw a picture of your garden or the park with the different birds they have seen too? Try making a map to show where you spotted each bird.
This event has been taking place for some thirty years. There have been results from nearly 280,000 gardens which gives experts an idea of how bird numbers are diminishing.
It is also great fun, good number practice and you'll feel part of a great effort to keep our local birds. Happy Twitching!
During winter, many of our birds really suffer in the cold weather and many perish as temperatures drop. We may take our birds for granted, but we would miss them if they weren't around. Run a diary project during the cold weather with your little ones. Chart what birds you see them and when, and put our food for them to attract them nea your home and to help them through the winter.
Nut feeders: there are all sorts of specialist nut feeders available from garden centres and pet shops to attract and feed different species of bird. You can simply hang a cheap nut feeder from a drainpipe or window and they will still come. If the weather is bad, they will become bolder in order to get to the food!
Bird tables: place the food on the table in a good, open position, near to trees in case a predator comes or cover is needed, but away from the fence that a cat might use as a springboard to get to the table! Make sure you can observe it from your window so that you and your children can enjoy watching the birds come and go.
Keep bird tables and feeders well stocked: if you decide to start helping the birds by providing food, try to keep it up throughout the winter so they can rely on your home to provide them with food throughout the winter rather than just for the first few days! Have your children help you put out food each day.
Water: A bowl of water (rather than ice!) is useful as during the icy months usual sources of water to drink become icy and frozen solid - rendering them useless. Bird baths are also essential for birds to clean their wings and rid themselves of any muddy debris that may have come attached. When their wings are not washes properly, they have trouble flying. Float a small plastic ball in the water to try to help it from freezing over. If it does freeze, break the ice and replace it with fresh water.
Spot any bird tracks (or any other animals for that matter!) in the snow and get the children outside (wrapped up warm!) to look at their environment.
Encourage your children to get involved in whatever way they can. Looking after nature is important and looking after our birds is easy and rewarding when you see them enjoying your food and flying around the wintery garden.
It's great to get outside whatever the weather, and winter outdoor activities take on a whole new meaning as we are wrapped up warm and have different things to focus on and play with. However, there are still dangers at large and here are a few pointers when it comes to making outside play safe and fun for children.
- Even if it's chilly and you don't fancy going outside into the garden with the children, do go out and check first that the garden is safe and free from any animal debris or faeces. Foxes can bring in all sorts of things (other people's shoes, rags, soft toys) that they have found in neighbouring gardens. So clean up any mess first using disposable gloves.
- When going out in the country, make sure children avoid any fresh manure. It may be interesting (!) but it should not be touched or dug up.
- Similarly, don't let the children wander too far into ditches or boggy land that may lead to problems.
- Be aware of what may have been put on the park flowers or indeed your own garden (manure, fertilizer, animal repellent etc.) Even though you may not be able to see the chemicals/treatment, they may still be present and can be dangerous if consumed.
- Make sure that kids know they can play in mud, but they must NOT touch their faces and MUST wash their hands thoroughly afterwards. If they are too young to understand these rules, they cannot be allowed to play in mud.
- Keep children away from water such as streams, ponds and lakes, especially when it becomes colder and they freeze over.
- Keep an eye on them, even if it's your familiar garden they are playing in.
Have, good, clean and safe fun!
Some children love bugs and worms, but others are scared or nervous around them - this is a great activity to enthrall those who are interested, and gently introduce worms to those who need some encouragement! By setting up a wormery, you get to see what happens underground. It's clean for us, safe for the worms and very interesting for the children.
You need to find the following:
- one large plastic drinks bottle - the bigger the better, the 2 litre ones work well
- one smaller plastic bottl
- some clean sand (horticultural sand not the coarse DIY sand)
- some peat free soil
- Poke some holes in the bottom of the large bottle so the water can run out. Also, cut off the top of the bottle so you can place the small bottle inside.
- Fill the smaller bottle with water and place it in the big one. (This keeps the worms cool)
- Fill the outside bottle with alternate layers of sand and soil so each layer is 4cm deep. Pour in some water so it is damp.
- Hop out to the garden and search for some worms. Dig up a bit of soil and you should find some.
- Put them carefully into the soil/sand area of the bottle and pop it somewhere dark (shed or under an empty bucket) for a couple of days.
- When you get them out to take a look, you should see that all the soil and sand have been mixed up as they tunnel around.
- After a few days let them out again, and then you can start again with some different worms.
Toddlers and pre-schoolers are for ever playing around the place and one day will inevitably get themselves a splinter. Most can be brushed away or removed with a pair of tweezers or long finger nails. However, if it needs a bit more attention, here are some pointers.
- If it's sticking out - Sterilize a pair of tweezers and wash your hands before you start. Give lots of encouragement and reassurance to your child. Try and get hold of the splinter at the base (where it comes out of the skin) hold tightly and pull out. If it doesn't come out easily, don't force it as it might break and remain inside.
- If it's not sticking out or has broken inside - Sterilise a needle with a flame and cool. Soak the area in warm water, and use the needle to create a slit in the skin and carefully remove the splinter. It won't hurt, but the idea of it may scare your child, so give lots of encouragement and perhaps get someone to help hold your child still while you do it.
- If it's a big one! - If it's big, or curved, or glass you should take your child to the doctor.
- If it's a little one - You may find that leaving the splinter alone it will eventually work loose and fall out itself. Try washing in warm water a few times a day.
If it gets infected
If it seems swollen, red or pussy, you must take your child to the doctor and make sure that your child's immunisations are up to date.
How to prevent splinters
- Make sure your child keeps shoes on in the garden and wears slippers indoors if you have wooden floors.
- If you break a glass use a vacuum and clear up all the tiny fragments carefully.
- Keep away from garden sheds and any other wooden items in the garden that are not sanded down.
- Be aware of wooden edges to pathways or climbing equipment at the playground that may be damaged.
Whilst a splinter can be rather painful, most of the time the pain subsides as soon as the foreign body has been extracted. Take care.
All this sun gives is the perfect opportunity to teach our toddlers how the sun moves throughout the day and how better to show this than by making a giant sundial?! Start by making a few signs of things that you do throughout the day. Draw a picture each for breakfast, lunch and tea. Draw pictures for snacks that you take regularly, then draw some pictures for other things that you do as part of your daily routine - do you always go outside at a certain time, or do a school run for older siblings? Do you have a set story time, song time or maybe a time when you let your children watch a bit of television? Make a bright sign for each of these and any other routine things that you do.
Now find two garden canes and cut them into lengths about two foot long - you can use short straight branches if you don't have canes to hand. Attach one of your little one's drawings to each of the canes, securing them with tape. Leave one piece of cane plain without any picture. If there's a chance of rain over the next few days then attach a see through sandwich bag over each sign to protect it.
To make your sundial, take the plain cane and stick it in the ground in your garden. Then as each of the different points of the day passes, go outside and look at where the shadow of your cane is sited. Stick one of your cane's into the ground at the tip of the shadow.
As the day progresses, the sun moves in the sky and the tip of your shadow will move. By the end of the day, all your homemade signs will be sited in an arc around the original pointer. Explain to your toddler that the sun moves throughout the day and that this causes the shadow to move. You might be able to explain to older children how the earth moves around the sun and that this is the reason why the shadow moves.
Leave your sundial out for a week and look at how the shadow points to the right sign for the different things going on in the day as the sun progresses.
Celebrate summer and being outdoors with a garden sing song, there are lot's of fun songs that you can sing with your babies to enjoy in the summer sun!
Mary, Mary Quite Contrary
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle-shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
Round and Round the Garden
Round and round the garden, like a Teddy Bear.
(trace your finger in a circle around your little one's palm)
One step, two step
(walk your fingers up their arm)
Tickle you under there!
(tickle them under their chin or arm)
Creepy Crawly Songs
There's a Worm at the Bottom of the Garden
There's a worm at the bottom of my garden,
And his name is 'Wiggly Woo'.
There's a worm at the bottom of my garden
And all that he can do
Is wiggle all day and wiggle all night,
The neighbors say what a terrible fright!
There's a worm at the bottom of my garden,
And his name is Wiggly Woo!
Incy Wincey Spider
Incy Wincy spider climbed up the spout,
Down came the rain and washed the spider out,
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain,
Now Incy Wincy spider went up the spout again!
Five Little Speckled Frogs
Five little speckled frogs
Sat on a speckled log
Eating the most delicious grubs.
One jumped into the pool
Where it was nice and cool
Then there were four green speckled frogs.
...then repeat with 4, 3, 2, 1.
Old Macdonald had a Farm
Old Macdonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O
And on his farm he had a cow, E-I-E-I-O
With a moo-moo here and a moo-moo there
Here a moo there a moo
Everywhere a moo-moo
Old Macdonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O
...and repeat for different animals
Five Little Ducks
Five little ducks
Went out one day
Over the hill and far away
Mother duck said
"Quack, quack, quack, quack."
But only four little ducks came back.
...repeat until all of the ducks have flown and then...
Sad mother duck
Went out one day
Over the hill and far away
The sad mother duck said
"Quack, quack, quack."
And all of the five little ducks came back.
Getting active with the children is not always as easy as it sounds: how can you fit any more activity time in an already busy day? Here are some simple ways to increase the activity levels in your family. Remember, every little bit counts, so keep a note of all these activities and work out your daily total of minutes spent being active.
- Music Time - turn on some groovy music and have a good old dance together!
- Encourage your toddler to walk up the stairs or to the car rather than being carried. For older children, encourage them to tidy up after themselves or put away toys or washing at the end of the day.
- Walk to the shops and post box rather than take the car.
- Get the little ones involved with household chores: digging in the garden, sweeping the floor, washing down the garden shed.
- Go for a walk as a family - find somewhere with woods and climb up the trees or balance along fallen tree trunks.
- Have a time limit on TV watching.
- Think about some old fashioned games that are fun to play outside: hop skotch, skipping, chase, hide and seek, hoolahoop, flying a kite.
Children should do about an hour of physical activity each day. See how close you are and praise them each time they want to do something physical. It is so good for them to start out actively as children, because then they are more likely to stay active as they grow older.
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