One of the best things you can cultivate in your yard is a new wildlife gardener
Ranger Rick® Senior Editor Hannah Schardt helps her daughter, Rebecca, plant bee balm and other native plants in the family’s new wildlife garden in Washington, D.C.
WHEN WE MOVED to our home in Northern Virginia 14 years ago, my husband and I got right to work creating a wildlife garden, replacing yards of turf with a native-plant bed. We expected our then 2-year-old to play nearby as we labored, but she dug right in—literally. For each mat of sod we pulled up, her tiny hands yanked a clump. All day long we marveled at her determination to keep pace.
Today our property—a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat® —has grown into a quarter-acre haven for bees, birds and other critters supported by dozens of native plant species. And our two kids, now teenagers, still help us care for this wildlife sanctuary.
Their work may help them as much as the wildlife. Teresa O’Connor, author of the blog Seasonal Wisdom, says tending a garden brings a sense of accomplishment as “kids see visual results from their efforts.” A growing body of research also provides evidence that outdoor activities like gardening boost physical and emotional health as well as the academic performance of children.
Want your kids and grandkids to reap such benefits? Here are some tips for adults who want to make gardening with children an enjoyable experience for the entire family:
Be a role model. Kids want to do what their parents and grandparents are doing. Encourage them to participate in gardening from the get-go to generate enthusiasm.
Start small. Cultivate a sliver of your property initially or plant flowers in containers.
Grow plants that flower fast. Kids are eager to see the results of their work.
Choose species that engage the senses. Examples include eye-catching sunflowers, fragrant herbs and textured grasses.
Cater to critters. Select plants native to your area, which will attract and nurture the most wildlife.
Add more wildlife lures. Install nest boxes, birdbaths, feeders or brush piles to complement the food and cover that plants provide.
Visit the garden often. You don’t want kids to miss fleeting rewards such as flowers opening or butterflies sipping nectar.
Help kids share the garden. Giving tours to friends and family reinforces a child’s ownership and instills a sense of pride.
Invite reflection. Help kids record notes in a journal, draw pictures or take photos to reinforce what they have learned and enjoyed.
Your efforts may have an additional payoff: Gardening has given my son and daughter a greater awareness of—and concern for—the natural world around them. Like plants, a love of nature has deep roots.
Become an NWF Wildlife Gardener and sign up for our Garden for Wildlife™ newsletter. It's free and you will receive great gardening tips and learn how to certify your yard as a Certified Wildlife Habitat® site or your community as part of NWF's Community Wildlife Habitat® program.
Kelly Senser is former National Wildlife managing editor. Find more family-friendly gardening tips at www.nwf.org/kidsgardenforwildlife.
More from National Wildlife magazine and NWF:
Teaching Kids to Be Nature Smart
Native Plant, or Not So Much?
Garden For Wildlife: Native Plant Finder
Gardening for Pollinators: Grow Bigger, Better Fruits and Veggies
Growing a Better Bird Feeder
Create a Haven for Beneficial Bugs
Garden for Wildlife: The Tick Predicament
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A groundbreaking bipartisan bill aims to address the looming wildlife crisis before it's too late, while creating sorely needed jobs.Read More
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