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Teaching children to appreciate garden wildlife

By teaching our children to appreciate the natural world and its inhabitants, we can ensure the welfare of our planet for generations to come. This may sound like a big claim but it all starts with something small like the garden, and there are many things you can do to interest your offspring into venturing into the garden and caring for the wildlife contained within. For most, the back garden of your home will be the first point of contact for your kids to the natural world and a chance for them to experience insects and animals in their natural habitat.

This can have many positive influences on your child particularly in the early years. Besides the obvious fresh air and exercise and increased concentration levels, the child will build a rapport with the wildlife and a tolerance to allergies such as hay fever. Also, the fact that they are constantly learning new things means their brain will develop quicker than if they were stuck in front of the TV for hours on end. There are a number of things you can do to solidify your child's interest in caring for wildlife and the environment, some of which are outlined below.

Introducing brightly coloured and interesting flowers into the garden will encourage favourites such as bees and butterflies into the garden adding a visual element of life that will engage the child from day one. 

Sunflowers are a perfect example of this; the seeds are easy to handle and plant by kids and the heights they reach will give them an added sense of accomplishment and admiration. Even when the flower dies, the fun doesn't stop there are kids can eat the seeds as a reward.

By mimicking natural habitats of other animals such as squirrels, hedgehogs and birds, the kids will get a feel for larger animals which will remove the notion of animals being a threat and may even negate the need for costly pets! Remember that for animals to feel at home, a sufficient food and water supply needs to be established, particularly during the colder months. High energy fat and suet feeds are especially recommended. Water supplies could be in the form of a pond, boggy area or a bird bath though make sure this is constantly topped up with fresh clean water so that algae does not form. Also check that this does not freeze over in frosty weather as this could cut off the only water supply to some animals.

Hands on projects and activities will keep the kids entertained while they learn. By allowing them to 'own' their own section of the garden to work on and plant their own plants and vegetation will heighten their sense of accomplishment when flowers flourish and vegetables grow. Kids tools are also available for purchase which will give the child a real sense of ownership, a vital lesson in life.

Building a pond or water feature is also an excellent way of attracting wildlife such as frogs and invites the possibility of introducing some goldfish, fascinating to watch from a kid's point of view! Remember to have sloping sides where possible to allow creatures easy access into and out of the pond and add lots of plants which are not only visually pleasing, but are an excellent source of oxygen for the water.

Other activities could involve the child exploring the garden armed with a magnifying glass, a clear container or jar, a pencil and paper and really learning about the inhabitants and recording their findings through pictures and words. Helping them build a makeshift ant farm or wormery is an easy and satisfying task allowing them to get up close and personal with the insects.

The simplest way is to obtain a clear empty 2Ltr bottle and cut off the top. Poking holes in the bottom will allow excess water to drain and covering the top with kitchen roll will allow sufficient air to get through while stopping the creatures from escaping. Imitate the insect's natural habitat and make sure sufficient food and water is available, then you are ready to introduce the creatures into their new home. Remember to release them after a week and replace with new ones if necessary as to not cause any distress.

Building birdhouses and feeding stations out of wood is another fun task that the child will really enjoy, however, this can be very dangerous if not supervised properly. Quality, cheap bird houses and boxes can be purchased from garden centres and the results can be very encouraging.

Although there is a lot of fun and learning to be had in the garden, there are also many hazards that need to be avoided where possible. Many of these are common sense and an additional learning opportunity for your child. Prickly and thorny plants should be avoided where possible or sectioned off as should plants with poisonous and toxic berries which may be appealing to young eyes. Water is always a big hazard and if you have or are thinking of introducing a pond then necessary precautions should be taken. This could be in the form of wire netting over the top or fencing around the perimeter making it inaccessible to unsupervised children.

One more thing to consider is visibility from the house as household tasks will demand attention meaning that you will be unable to spend all day supervising at close proximity. With this in mind, tying back or removing bushes, hedging and trees should be taken into consideration if it hinders the view of any part of the garden, though remember, these often provide the homes for many animals.

 

Above all else, have fun and enjoy your garden!

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