There’s an old chant many parents will remember: “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me; I’m going down the garden to eat some worms.” Challenging behaviour from small children may well make the most saint-like parent feel unloved and inclined to eat worms, but rather than heading down the garden on your own, it might be worth taking the challenging small child with you. Not to eat worms, preferably, but to mess about in the garden. It might help both of you!
Developing good food habits
There’s quite a lot of evidence that getting some dirt under your fingernails is a good way to combat mild depression (that helps the adult), and that messing about in the soil is good for children’s immune systems (and possibly their temper too). So head down the garden, and dig and pick yourselves into a better frame of mind!
While little children are just as likely to dig up what you’ve carefully planted instead of helping, they will soon learn that putting plants in the ground the right way up, or planting some quick-growing seeds like radishes, are exercises that have edible outcomes, which encourages further experimentation.
And if you have fruit trees in your garden, or fruiting bushes like raspberries, spending time helping mum or dad in the garden will rapidly become attractive!
Being out in the fresh air and up close with biology gives you a chance to talk to your child about the many things you’ll find in front of your noses – plants (cultivated and weeds), soil creatures, spiders, ants, and yes, worms…
Vocabulary may improve quite rapidly, though for many of us what our children learn to name may well include oxalis, convolvulus and thistles. Never mind, they’re all good words and just as helpful as carrots, lettuce, cauliflower and sweetcorn!
And if children are interested and involved with things, they won’t be misbehaving, they’ll be learning instead, without even realising. They may well start to invent games and play happily by themselves with bits and pieces they find lying around, which is great for their imaginations and better and cheaper than relying on bought toys.
Obviously, anything you can find in the garden that’s edible can then be taken in and cooked (if it’s not eaten raw before you get to the back door, which is fine as well, especially if it’s delicious things like baby carrots and fresh peas).
Cooking is another instant delight for many children – it’s interesting mixing things together, and you get something new and tasty at the end. What more could you ask, in terms of learning experiences and tantrum control?
It’s a good idea to keep cooking sessions with small children as quick and simple as possible (leave the Cordon Bleu techniques until they’re able to read the instructions for themselves!), so the following are a few suggestions for really easy things that work, and contain items you’re likely to find in your own or your neighbour’s garden.