Homeschooling and your garden
Hi, I’m Mandy Tulloch, an outdoor learning specialist in Aberdeenshire. I run Mud Pies, weekly nature classes for 2 to 5-year-olds and work in four great primary schools in Aberdeen, using their grounds to support children’s development and learning. I am outdoors at least four days a week, love nearly every minute of it and have come to the realisation that children of all ages don’t need expensive toys and gadgets outdoors. It’s the simplest of things that really intrigue them.
I have to admit I am slightly anxious about the next few months. My kids are 12 and 14, so fairly self-sufficient. But I am going to be at home with them and whilst they will have homework to do I am going to go stir crazy if they (and I) are not outside at least for some part of each day! We are fortunate to have some private garden space too.
If you also fall into that category then here are some simple ideas to get your garden ready for the next few months.
Spinning, swinging, being upside down and rolling around is really good for kids – the stuff that now makes you feel dizzy and sick. It stimulates their vestibular and proprioceptive systems and helps develop their balance, coordination and concentration. If you don’t have a swing already, make a rope version. I found a curtain pole that will work nicely as a seat or failing that I will go for a walk and find a sturdy stick or use an old tyre. The adventure organisation Monday-Do have great tips on how to make a swing. Two ropes tied between trees are also fun – one to stand on just off the ground and one at shoulder height, making your very own low ropes course. If you’ve got a hammock now’s the time to get it dusted down and hung up. If you were thinking of buying something a trapeze swing doubles your money having both a swing and monkey bars to hang on. Remember – learning how to swing yourself on a swing is a life skill and is physics in action so that’s the science lesson covered for the day!
Set aside a patch in your garden for children of all ages to simply dig. It’s physical and fun. They might want to dig for treasure, find bugs or look for bones. Follow their lead. Some soil in a tyre or old sandpit is great too if you don’t have the space. If you find a worm, please tell them that the dark end is the head and that if they chop it in half they will get a dead worm, not two – that’s an urban myth! If you have an older child who has read Louis Sacher’s Holes now is the time to “build character” by digging a hole exactly five feet wide and five feet deep!
Sand is also very engaging and has loads of possibilities. Sandpits should be as big as you can make them so that children can get into them if possible! A tarpaulin on the ground covered with sand makes a great temporary sandpit. You could bolster up the sides with some tyres or planks if you had them.
Making and building things outdoors is really interesting and educational too. Have a look at what you have lying around. Do you have any old wood, tyres (you can get old ones for free from garages), crates or bed sheets? Ask at your neighbours or local recycling centre. Things that can be used in different ways so that children can build and use their imaginations are what you’re looking for. Inspiring Scotland have produced a wonderful Loose Parts Toolkit and ‘This place is like a building site’ video, which will give you lots of ideas, or look up “loose parts play” online.
This is the perfect time of year to start growing flowers and vegetables. Transform your garden into a veg plot or grow things on a windowsill, in pots or growbags, either way there’s loads of learning involved. Budget for how many packets of seeds you can afford to buy, estimate how many potatoes you’ll need to plant to feed your family this summer, measure out rows for seeds and take care of living things. Basil, tomatoes, courgette and cucumbers work well indoors whilst outside you should be able to get good crops of potatoes, peas, chard and chives. The horticultural industry is sadly in decline in the UK so we could use the next few months to inspire children to the wonders of becoming the producers of the future.
There’s statistically more chance of snow at Easter than at Christmas so making a corner of your garden more sheltered will keep your kids out for longer on those not so nice days. A cheap tarpaulin is a quick and easy way to do this, tied over the two corner fences in your garden. I sometimes even tie tarps vertically to a fence to act as a wind break.
So take the next few days to have a look at your garden and see what you’d like to do. Ask your child for their opinion too – the more they’re involved the more likely they are to use it. Don’t buy lots of things either. If your house is anything like mine you’ll be surprised at what you find – it’s also more eco and saves you money. The key is to keep things simple.
If you don’t have a garden, could you borrow a neighbour’s or go to a local greenspace and make a piece of it your own?!
Have fun and keep in touch. Let’s all work through this together!