Finding ways to keep the kids busy while they’re at home can be a challenge so rather than plonk them in front of the TV or letting them loose on a games console try to encourage them to get in touch with nature instead.
1 – Help Hedgehogs to Hibernate
Sadly, thousands of UK wildlife species are now in decline, from hedgehogs, hares and sparrows to butterflies, bees and moths. An alarming 15% of our country’s wildlife are also at risk of becoming extinct, including the native bat population, with 41% of species having decreased in the last fifty years.
But if we can create nurturing habitats for native wildlife that includes refuge, food and water, we can all help to do our bit to look after our garden species.
Children will love building a cosy home for hedgehogs to help these prickly creatures hibernate throughout the winter, and to give them a safe space to raise their hoglets in spring. You can buy ready-made hedgehog homes, but why not get your kids involved and build your own. With just a few small pieces of plywood and a handful of nails you can easily create your own unique house – just watch out for those little fingers at this stage – and allow a ventilation hole at the back. Place the hedgehog home in a quiet, sheltered spot at the back of your garden, with the entrance facing away from the wind. Now for the fun part – cover with dry leaves, twigs and vegetation and get your kids to monitor for any activity, but remember to leave hibernating hedgehogs and their young during the main hibernation period, from October to April.
2 – Keep our Creepy Crawlies Happy
Other wildlife and insects may also need a place to hibernate in the winter, and an insect hotel can not only be a great way to keep the kids busy, but provides a safe environment for a whole host of creepy crawlies. What’s more, dedicated insect hotels are also ideal if you grow your own fruit and vegetables, as they are guaranteed to encourage pollination from our important bee population.
You can also build your own hidey-hole that will be a haven for ladybirds, woodlice and solitary bees in need of shelter. A really simple guide is to create a structure using planks of wood. Ask your kids to hunt for an array of natural garden matter that you can use to fill the hotel – this will create all those nooks and crannies that insects and bugs find so appealing. Dry leaves, cones, bamboo, twigs and bark are perfect for this and your children will have a great time finding all the bits and pieces for your hotel. Find a quiet spot, away from your family seating area and nail to a fence, the back of a shed, or a wall. Place your kids on insect watch and let the fun begin!
3 – Plants that Wildlife will Love
Trees such as the birch tree, provides food for an incredible 521 species of invertebrate – and where there’s insects, there are birds. The beech tree is also a nourishing food source for mammals such as mice and voles, and even provides food for some moth species, which have declined by 48% in recent years due to climate change. Evergreens, such as juniper, are a cosy home for wildlife all year round, and brighten up the darker winter months for customers.
Children will love choosing different seeds to plants in your garden. Take a trip with them to your garden centre to choose a colourful array of flowers that will bring your garden to life. Smaller flowers such as primroses, marigolds and scented geraniums will provide food and shelter for bees and other insects, and look stunning in stone planters and pots.
We all know that bees are crucial for our natural environment, so plant sunflowers and basil to attract these pollinators, and they will stay around all summer long.
4 – Clever Composting
Good things come to those who wait, and compost, while taking up to a year to develop, can be a great family activity to bring science to life and create a fertilizer made from vegetable and garden waste.
Create either a designated compost area with a shelter (make sure it’s far away from anyone who may have an issue with the odour – ideally at the back of the garden) or choose to cut out the bottom of a compost bin so the material touches soil.
Fill the area regularly with fallen leaves, grass cuttings, vegetable peelings, tea bags, egg shells and other kitchen and garden debris that you would usually throw away. Add a layer of soil to introduce earthworms and microorganisms that will help break down the waste.
Once the mixture eventually decomposes, you’ll have an eco-friendly fertilizer that will not only save you money in the long-run, but is more likely to help your plants to survive. Compost that’s made from kitchen and garden waste materials reduces landfill waste and therefore keeps a lid on increasing greenhouse gases too.
Make this part of your family’s daily routine, encouraging your children to learn more about nature.
5 – Feed The Birds
Throwaway and landfill culture harms the environment, so try to minimise your plastic use as much as possible. When it comes to decorating your garden, high-quality stone products last a lifetime, and are far more sustainable in terms of production and disposal than plastic.
Installing a bird bath or bird table is another easy way to encourage and look after nature in your garden – and will be loved by children of all ages. A stone bird bath or bird table will not only look great in your garden, but will provide essential drinking and bathing water, and food throughout the year. What’s more, stone bird baths and bird tables need little maintenance, apart from a quick clean with a non-abrasive, non-toxic cleaning fluid and brush.
Remember to ask your children to help keep your bird bath topped up with fresh water and keep an eye on it during the winter money, when freezing conditions can prevent our common garden birds from getting to the water they need to survive.
Bake a batch of high-energy, nutritious suet balls studded with seeds and nuts to help sustain our feathered friends during the harsh winter months. Simply pour the mixture into half a coconut shell or place on your stone bird table, to be used time and time again. This is a fun activity for the whole family and placing these in your garden will encourage birds to flock in droves!
6 – Grow Your Own
Growing your own food is sustainable, as currently, food production accounts for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, and using natural fertilizers, helps to nourish your soil and reduce the amount of harmful chemicals polluting our environment.
Your children will love growing their own food for all the family – an activity that will keep them busy from the springtime planting of seeds and seedlings, to the harvesting of healthy, homegrown salads, vegetables and berries in the autumn.
Research shows that when kids grow their own food, and see it develop from seed to fruit, they develop a much healthier relationship with what they eat. It also encourages them to eat more of their five a day.
Give your green-fingered little ones their own vegetable plot in the garden and encourage them to choose a variety of healthy vegetables, salads and herbs to plant, water and watch them grow! Keep them keen by planting a range of homegrown produce that will grow at different rates, so they have a constant crop of fresh food to harvest. Quick-growing runner beans, lettuce and carrots are great options to get started, while potatoes, radish and beetroots will provide a bounty of root veg that can be harvested later in the autumn.
7 – Gardening is Looking Up
One of the easiest ways to grow your own food, especially if you have smaller spaces, is through vertical gardening.
Vertical greenery is perfect in areas where you have small gardens, and is becoming more and more popular in urban areas where space is limited.
Children love the novelty of vertical gardening and affordable upright frames can be bought pre-built, or you can create your own setup – you can find a handy how to guide here. For those with smaller plots, vertical gardening is ideal and easy to set-up and maintain. You can even water the plants through an automated irrigation system which comes through rainwater.
Strawberry and tomato plants are some of the best climbers you can grow on a vertical frame and the kids will love harvesting the plentiful sweet fruits. Hardy fuchsias and petunias are also perfect for vertical gardening frames and will provide months of vivid colour throughout the warmer season.
Encouraging your children to step away from their screens and get more involved in gardening will bring so many benefits to the whole family, and help our natural wildlife to thrive.
A big thanks to Nicola Clements, Marketing Manager at Haddonstone.