According to Kate Middleton, who has just designed a “nature garden” for children at the Chelsea Flower show, spending time outdoors can help children grow into “happy, healthy adults.” There’s no doubt we are losing our connection to the natural world. Here’s our top 10 tips for going green with your kids.
1. Grow your own dinner
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There’s little more satisfying in life than biting into fresh vegetables that you have grown yourself. Homegrown greens usually taste better than supermarket fare, and perhaps it’s partly the addition of the secret ingredient of pride, which only comes when you’ve nurtured and tended the crops yourself. Starting a kitchen garden with a child is a great way to help them connect to nature, and to teach them about healthy food and sustainability.
Even better, for parents with picky eaters the rewards could be even more significant. A study of school pupils carried out in the US by researchers at Ohio state university demonstrated that children are five times more likely to eat their salad when they have grown it themselves.
Start by choosing easy-to-grow crops that have a short cycle from seed or sprout to plate, so that kids can reap the benefits of their efforts before they lose interest or get bored. Radishes take just a few days to sprout, and about a month from seed to harvest. Strawberries, those bright red tasty jewels that fruit in mid-summer, are sure to please. And potatoes are almost fool-proof and great fun to harvest. Even if you don’t have a garden, a cherry tomato plant and even peas and beans will be perfectly happy in planters on a terrace or balcony.
2. Send your child to forest school
No matter your age, spending time immersed in nature in a forest is good for physical and mental health. Last year a large-scale meta-analysis carried out by researchers at the University of East Anglia found that those who spend more time in green spaces have lower rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease.
For kids, the benefits are even more pronounced. Forests provide a rich and diverse education. Forest schools, which encourage hands-on learning outdoors in a natural environment, claim that children who attend demonstrate improved concentration, higher self-esteem, and better numeracy and literacy skills.
There are a number of forest schools around Ireland which offer programmes for children of all ages, both during term time and school holidays. For more information visit irishirishforestschoolassociation.ie.
3. Feed the worms
Many Irish kids will already know by now that putting food waste in the green bin helps reduce landfill and that composted food helps to nourish the soil in which plants and crops grow. But why not take a step further, making use of worm power, so that children can watch the fascinating process as the wriggly creatures convert kitchen waste into soil food. It’s recycling in action!
You don’t need any special equipment to get started, and can set up a beginner’s wormery with just a large glass jar, some soil, sand, old leaves and discarded food peelings, as well as a good handful of earthworms (best gathered from the garden or a nearby park on a rainy day). Layer the jar with sand and then soil, leaving at least 5cm space at the top, before finally adding the worms and the food waste. Make a few holes in the lid, cover the jar with black paper and leave in cool dark place for a couple of weeks before unwrapping to see what the busy worms have been up to.
4. Nurture their inner eco-warrior
Eco-Unesco and Environmental Education and Youth Organisation empowers young people to unite, campaign and educate on a range of environmental issues, promoting the protection of the environment. They run a variety of programmes for older kids who are passionate about protecting the planet, from ages 10-18. There is an established network of 300 Eco-Unesco clubs around the country composed of young people who are busy campaigning and working to protect the environment. Eco-Unesco also offer summer camps and workshops year round. For more information visit ecounesco.ie.
5. Join a beach clean
All kids love the beach. And there’s no shortage of beautiful sandy strands in this country. But many of them aren’t as pristine as you might hope. Many tonnes of litter and plastic waste from landfill and urban spaces turns up on our shorelines where it poses a hazard to marine wildlife. It’s easy for even young children to grasp why plastic waste, and the risk it poses to the birds, fish and mammals of the sea, is a problem. One Irish child, 12-year-old Flossie Donnelly, has become so passionate about the issue that she spends her spare time combing beaches around Ireland for discarded coffee cups, nappies and food wrappings to clean away. Why not join her efforts, spending time by the sea, and helping to improve Irish beaches for the creatures and people who need them. To join an organised beach clean near you visit cleancoasts.org. For more info and inspiration see Flossie’s blog flossieandthebeachcleaners.com.
6. Plan a zero waste party
If you’ve ever organised a child’s party and then sighed with dismay as you take in the bags and bags of plastic-coated cups, plates and drinks bottles that accumulate during clean-up, it’s heartening to know that there might be a better way to celebrate your birthday boy or girl without cluttering their future with plastic. Get your kids involved in planning a more sustainable event by decorating with cloth banners rather than balloons and sourcing ethical, 100pc compostable party supplies including cups, plates, party bag fillers. Check out Irish zero-waste supplier, Planet Sustie, planetsustie.ie.
7. Bring the joy of recycling to school
We know that plastic goes in one bin and glass in another but kids can get a more concrete, hands-on understanding on how important recycling is via the Let’s Recycle initiative. This is a workshop held in schools and organised by Clean Ireland, which brings vital information about how to deal with rubbish to 3rd and 4th class pupils all over Clare, Limerick and Tipperary. Participants take part in a fun rubbish-sorting game and young children learn about the simple steps they can take to have a positive impact on the environment.
To enquire about bringing a workshop to your child’s school visit [email protected]
8. Make your garden wildlife-friendly
Even if you only have a small outdoor space, there are plenty of things you can do with your kids to attract insects, birds and even animals to your garden, providing an opportunity for children to experience biodiversity in action and learn about the many creatures that are essential to the wellbeing of our planet.
According to advice from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the UK the key is focusing on the many microhabitats you find in an average garden, and developing them as much as possible. That means leaving areas of lawn uncut to home insects and attract birds, installing a water feature or pond as a home for amphibians and bathing area for birds. Even a simple woodpile, as it decomposes, will become a welcoming bug hotel.
See discoverwildlife.com for info on starting a wildlife garden.
9. Fill your house with foliage
You don’t need to live in the countryside to surround your offspring with greenery and plants. City-dwellers who are short on space can reap the benefits of plants and bring nature home by installing a living wall or vertical garden in their house or yard. Or by filling their homes with succulents and plants. The pros are unequivocal – vegetation helps regulate air temperature and combat pollution, and filling your environment with plants has been shown to reduce stress and improve mental health. Why not get kids hands-on with indoor gardening by joining them in assembling a terrarium, a miniature green world.
10. Let them climb a tree
There’s nothing like looking down at the world from a leafy height at the top of a tree to help a child understand the wonder of the natural world and the importance of our connection to it. It’s a different world in the tree tops, quiet and peaceful. Also, allowing children to take risks and master tasks like tree-climbing has been demonstrated in studies to build emotional resilience in children.
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