Posts Tagged ‘summer’

My Toddler. My Garden. Just some basics.

June 19, 2009

Let’s face it… toddlers love to get dirty! Teaching children to garden has many more benefits than developing fine and gross motor skills. They learn to follow basic instructions, “Dig a hole here please!”. They start to process the basics of how plants grow, “Please put these seeds in the hole and cover them up. Now lets water them.” They have fun because they can actually get dirty and play with water and we encourage it! Sunscreen, a hat, lots of kid sized tools and patience will give you a good start to the toddler gardening experience.

watering The first thing I am going to suggest is to remove any cellphones, PDA’s, iPods or anything that can get damaged by water. I always fully expect to get soaked when I garden with toddlers. Why? Because most kids love to help water and they point the hose where they are looking! “Look its a bird!” and for some reason the hose has to look straight up as well! This is a perfect activity on a very hot summer day. Then again if you have a watering can this helps eliminate the soaked factor, however, I still say keep electronics out of the way! I learned the hard way!

I prefer to grow edibles with children simply because they are more likely to try something they have grown in the garden. I focus on positive encouragement when it comes to food because its important to me that children keep the negatives off of the dinner table. Yes, most children will recoil at certain new foods and can be extremely picky but I think its all about how you present the foods. The right enthusiasm goes a long way. My daughter will not eat a bowl of yellow pear tomatoes or cherry tomatoes that I buy from the store. Actually, she won’t eat any kind of tomatoes that aren’t in marinara sauce or ketchup unless she picks them straight from the garden. I asked her once why she will eat what we grow and not what we buy and she said, “Because I worked hard to help you grow these… and they taste better.” I think she was indulging me on the first part though. Hmm.

Cucumbers, sunflowers, lettuce, corn, tomatoes, squash, pole and bush beans, peas and pumpkins are all fun to grow! Even a novice gardener with a very black thumb can grow these… with some help by the kids of course.

Keep gardening times short! You will want to give the kids tasks in 15 – 20 minute time frames. I break it all up with different activities and present it in a fun way… “Now we are going to fill these cups up with soil!” then “Okay kids lets play with bubbles!” and finally “Lets look in this bag of seeds. Can you put a few in the cups of soil?” Sometimes you have to put off a task for the next day. It all depends on the child(ren).

Gardening Duties for the Wee Ones:

  • Pick out new plants or seeds (with some helpful positive direction of course!)
  • Fill up cups, pots or recycled container (like yogurt cups with holes cut out) with soil
  • Put seeds in soil and cover
  • Put in marker (after you label them)
  • Pull off dead heads. Give your kid(s) a basket and allow them to pick off all the dead flowers.
  • Water the plants (dodge as much as you can!)
  • Pull weeds! (Show the difference between seedlings and weeds)
  • Collect worms!
  • Harvest the goodies!

These are just some basic ideas to get you started. Figuring out how to get your toddler in tune with your garden is a forever evolving process. And, sometimes… no matter how much you try there will be destroyed flowers. They are, after all, toddlers.

flower destroyer

Strawberry Allergies No More!

June 19, 2009

StrawberriesStrawberries are very easy to grow and are a very beautiful addition to the garden. Unfortunately, we had a no berry zone in our garden for many years. My daughter has a lot of severe food allergies and one of her biggest allergies was berries. I say “was” with a smile on my face because she tested negative to berries this past year and we have slowly made them a regular addition to our meals. She is seven years old now and was diagnosed with life threatening food allergies when she was only a month old. Its been a very limiting road for us with food, however, we have always enjoyed everything we can. I am so much more aware of food, ingredients, preservatives, chemicals and organics because of this life change it was only a natural progression that I took to growing our own. I never would have thought that I’d be growing, jamming and canning our own food but here I am making so many foods from scratch and enjoying every step of the way.

After we slowly tried all the berries we could she decided that strawberries are her favorites and blueberries are a very close second. Since she is crazy about strawberries we had to grow them for the first time this year! I really do love to garden with children and most importantly I love growing our own food. With a lot of patience and the right timing gardening is really enjoyable with them. Earlier this year we picked up three different varieties of strawberries from the nursery so we could compare them. The first strawberry that started to form was watched by my daughter daily. She would go outside to “check on it” as often as I would let her. She would gently keep checking the mulch around it and make sure it wasn’t too thirsty. That first strawberry was such a milestone for us because not only could she finally eat them but we enjoy their beauty daily since they line our walkway to the front door. first strawberry

Okay, in all honesty the first strawberry was real small and very runty but it was delicious! Or so she told me since I didn’t even get a nibble! I had hoped that we could eventually grow enough so I can make some strawberry jam but the ripe strawberries rarely make it inside the house and are gobbled down immediately.

Who knows, next year we might expand our tiny strawberry patch and be up to our ears in jam but for now we enjoy each and every one like it was her first and appreciate her food allergy accomplishments.

Watching the Clouds

June 17, 2009

Cloud Watching

Have you ever watched the clouds with your kids? It seems so simple and primitive (okay, and seemingly BORING!) however, its actually pretty enjoyable. By the way, this was not my idea by a long shot! I was happily pulling weeds and sticking peppers and pole beans into the ground when my son yelled “Mommy! Lay-lown!”. He usually only says that when he is demanding I read a book to him so I couldn’t resist his smile when I turned around and saw him laying in the middle of a blanket in the yard. “Loo Mommy! Fluffy!” I called them fluffy clouds once and he only calls them fluffys! Yes, at that moment I groaned and really did think pulling weeds would be much more entertaining.

Happy Little Trees

In all reality we were staring at a big tree and two tiny clouds and our cat kept pouncing us because even he thought we were being boring. Does this sound awesome yet?

Unhappy Kitty

We had spent most of the day outside, running errands or painting. I felt like the day flew by so quickly and I started worrying about my lack of preparation for dinner. My seven year old daughter can’t pass up anything involving a good snuggle so she quickly came over and joined our cloud watching party. We talked about the clouds for only a few minutes since they quickly passed. We talked about the trees and what lives in there. When a flock of ducks flew overhead she reminded me about the time we were at the beach when a seagull pooped on my head. We laughed, had a tickle fight and continued to get a different perspective.

Taking the time to just do nothing is a rare moment for me and its something I really need to remember to do more often. I enjoyed over a half an hour of laughter without spending a dime. I relaxed with my kids and the breeze was amazing. I got to hear stories about how the tree was really fighting with the neighbors trees and thats why the branches were moving so fast. I also had my sunglasses stolen and didn’t have a reason to point out to my son that he had them on upside down. It wasn’t until that moment that I noticed how truly beautiful the day was.

So, maybe watching the clouds doesn’t seem as thrilling as a roller coaster. Its probably less entertaining than the latest kids flick. I know its not as educational as the library and definitely not as fun as the neighborhood park. But, the day was perfect simply because we stopped everything to watch two little clouds roll by.

Toddler Bubble Fun with a Fly Swatter

June 15, 2009

If I didn’t have bubbles on the brain when I went shopping with the kids I don’t think I would have considered a flyswatter for a bubble wand. I was standing in the cleaning aisle watching my son trying to grab the swatter and I thought, “Hmm.. why not?!” It just seemed like a great idea! All those tiny little holes, the long handle and the obvious interest my two year old son had in it seemed like the perfect, and inexpensive, toddler bubble wand.

So, there we were in our front yard with a big bowl of bubble solution and our flyswatters and we had so much fun! With one SWOOOSH we had hundreds of bubbles of all difference sizes! It was more enjoyable for my two year old to swing the swatter around than trying to dip a tiny wand in a bottle and mostly spit in his attemps to get any bubbles. We ran across the lawn and watched the bubbles trail behind us. Both of the kids took turns pretending the wands were wings and made “fairy bubbles” and they flew around the garden. The possibilities were endless, the investment was minimal and the laughter was constant.

Before trying this you have to accept that fact that the kids, yourself, possibly your neighbors cat and everything within your general area will get bubbled! But, that makes it even more fun! The bigger the swats the more bubbles made.

And of course I suggest you buy flyswatters specifically for bubble swatting and not for flies!

My Basic Bubble Solution:

1 cup of dishwashing liquid (Dawn or Joy)
4 cups of water
3 teaspoons of sugar or 4 tablespoons of glycerine

Cucumbers, Toddlers and Pickles

June 13, 2009

Do you love pickles? Do your kids? Grow some cucumbers and enjoy making homemade pickles with your kids! Kids always want to be entertained and that often makes us parents cringe because we will most likely be diving into our pockets. Why must entertainment and family activities cost so much? It doesn’t have to! Get back to basics with your kids! How about a little gardening? Oh sure, you might have a very reluctant black thumb but don’t let that stop you. Even a mistake in gardening can be a wonderful experience! You often won’t need much in the way of cost. Even if you don’t have a huge garden you can spend less than 10$, have a project for months and get a yummy treat at the end!

This year my daughter and I decided to grow six small pickling cucumber plants that we picked up from the local nursery with the intention of making pickles. She was focusing on the yummy result and I was thinking of all the little things she can learn from this project without knowing it!

Five of the plants were put in the ground in different areas in our front garden and one is in a pot. Okay so I admit we will never have the most beautifully landscaped garden on the block because of all of our random garden experiments, however, its our garden and I love it! Who says cucumbers don’t look right growing next to a Japanese maple or an azalea bush? Psh! Anyway, I chose to do this (knowing that some locations were not going to be ideal) because there are valuable lessons to be learned based on failed attempts in the garden. The idea is to observe the plants every week and tend to them all equally and discuss the differences. Kids are very perceptive and will often be quick to point out the noticeable differences! When the first blooms showed on the little guys my daughter made some interesting observations. This one in the pot is smaller than the ones in the ground. The other one in the shade has no flowers. The one in the hard soil is really yellow. I simply asked her questions as to why she thought all the plants that started out exactly the same are growing so differently. Her answers were mostly right on point however I didn’t agree with “The yellow plant is that color because our neighbors dog is using it as a toilet. So, lets not eat those.”

We planted our cucumbers very very early in the season and we are fortunate to be in Southern California and have a longer growing season so that means we already have cukes to harvest! The process of harvesting them was something we looked forward to every single day! Oh, and just remember that pickles are prickly so please wear gloves! Some were very short while others grew very crooked and we discussed the differences (and my daughter made her theories!). Some were consumed almost right away after a good scrubbing but most were put away for our original plan: Its Pickle Time!

I did most of the chopping and my daughter did most of the washing and we were both very eager to taste the end results. I wanted to use the easiest method for making pickles without having to deal with a lot of pots, wait time and mess. I found many ideas for “Microwave Pickles” and made my own that works for us! In about 15 minutes of wash, chop and nuke the cukes time we had our very own first jar of pickles! They were delicious!

The best thing about getting back to basics, including your kids in the process and having a delicious end result is that there is a lot to be enjoyed and learned along the way. My daughter isn’t too interested in cucumbers that we buy from the store but she wants an excuse to eat the homemade ones. Sure, she might not grow up to own her very own organic pickle company but she learns so much without even knowing it.

This is going to quickly become a regular project with my child care kids and we will easily be able to pick enough in one day to have for lunch. Even if you do not have a garden you can grow cukes in containers. You also don’t even have to grow your own to benefit from these ideas. Sometimes reading books about gardens and adding fun crafts can be enough! You can buy cucumbers and still have the kids learn how to turn them into pickles!

Below is a recipe for Microwave Pickles:

INGREDIENTS
5 – 8 small cucumbers.. slice them!
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
4 peeled garlic cloves *
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds *
1/4 teaspoon celery seed *
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric *

1.Mix all the ingredients and place them in a medium sized microwave safe bowl.
2.Microwave on high 7 to 8 minutes until cucumbers are tender and onion is translucent. I stop it every 2 – 3 minutes and give it a good stir!
3.Transfer to a sterile mason jar. Seal and chill in the refrigerator until serving.
* I find these ingredients to be optional and depends on what flavors you like. I personally just add the garlic and omit the rest. Its not that I don’t like the way it tastes with all the ingredients but I find that the kids all prefer it without them. So, use your own judgment! Plus, if you do not have all these ingredients you do not have to go out and buy them. They taste great without them!