I’m a rubbish gardener. I enjoy it, but I’m not great at knowing where things should go or growing vegetables. The idea of planting with the kids slightly terrifies me.
I do like pottering around in the garden, though, getting yard work done. Things like weeding, or working on bigger projects. We are making a lot of changes in our garden at the moment by extending our deck. This has led to a lot of other smaller projects, such as changing the layout of the grass, adding river stone edging and bark. These are activities I can do – even with the limited gardening knowledge I have!
This weekend we started work on moving dirt and prepping the ground around our new deck so that we can seed the grass. We’re under a bit of a time crunch, as there is a lot of preparation required, and we need to get it done before it’s too late in the season. That meant the boys had to come outside with us while we got the work done, as we had no babysitters on hand. And while they love to play outside for periods of time, it was pretty daunting trying to figure out how to keep them outside for two whole days.
Here are my top 5 tips, after spending the weekend trying to maximize our outdoors time:
1. Give them some space of their own
We own a few tools that are kid-sized. The boys are keen to help, but if they have to use implements that are clunky and too big for them, they give up pretty quickly. So we have mini versions of a shovel, rake, and a couple of regular trowels that they can use to dig in the yard. While we were working they could either come and help us with our section or work in a separate space where they could do what they liked. Red was more keen to help with the actual project, while Smalls was happy as long as he was close by, so space for him to dig for worms was perfect.
2. Let them play
I wanted the boys to help with the project as much as possible. I would love for them to feel a sense of accomplishment when it’s all done and know they helped to create an area we will spend so much time in this summer. I also want them to understand that there are certain family jobs where we all pitch in and work together, especially big projects. While their help didn’t speed up the process (and quite possibly delayed it!) as they get older they will be able to contribute in a more meaningful way, and so it’s important to me that they get used to helping from a young age.
In the meantime, we just needed to keep them outside with us! Whenever they wanted to, we let them wander from the project at hand and play. We knew that they would come back and forth, sometimes helping us when a fun, interesting job came up, and sometimes going back to their activities. It maximized our outdoor time, which was our main goal for this weekend.
We had a dump truck delivery of river stones (an event in itself for two young kids!) and then we let the kids play on the stone mountain. Smalls just wanted to climb and jump, but Red used it as part of a stop motion video he was making. He brought out lots of toy animals and cars and worked hard on making a track up the mountain. I love to see how imaginative the kids can be when given something new in the environment and left to their own devices!
3. Bribe them!
We agreed to pay them both a quarter for every 15 minutes of work. I wasn’t sure at first whether I wanted to pay them. As I mentioned before, I want them to get used to the idea that we all pitch in on big projects. But I realized that, particularly for Red, he wasn’t going to be motivated to help for long without some extra incentive. Plus, this project is not like everyday chores, where the kids are expected to help without payment. Pocket money and chores are not related in our house, but we do sometimes offer Red extra money for extra jobs. Additional jobs are never compulsory, and so I reluctantly accepted that same rule for our outdoor project. Thankfully there were enough fun and interesting parts that made them want to help out periodically through the day. Smalls was chief worm re-homer, and would excitedly come over to us any time we found a worm, and carry it to a ‘safer’ spot. Red loved being involved in planning where our new ‘pondless waterfall’ would sit in the garden, and helping lay the bed for it. This is a water feature where the water will run down over rocks, and then be pumped up to the top again. No pond at the base makes it a much safer option for young kids, and hopefully, as they outgrow playing with water, it will still add be an attractive feature in our garden. As the boys grow we will have to think further about the balance of required family work versus paid additional work.
4. Know when to bend the rules
Smalls woke up on Sunday a little out of sorts. He complained of a sore stomach, maybe he was coming down with something, we weren’t sure. He certainly didn’t want to be left doing jobs, he wanted to be with his Mama, and that made digging and moving earth hard. We finally compromised by putting him on my back in the carrier for a bit. It slowed down my work output drastically, but after thirty minutes of cuddles and closeness, he was ready to get down and play again. I had never anticipated being the mom who is still carrying her toddler around on her back, but it is what Smalls needs, and it is what works for us as a family right now. I’m so glad we pushed through it by using the carrier and didn’t give up and head into the house, as now Smalls is already more used to the idea that on gardening days, we stay outside all day.
Red spent some of the time sitting on the step inside the garage reading his book. While I would rather he had been outside, it was the compromise that worked. We could still hear him, and after a while, he would come back out and play or work again, intrigued by the sound of something we were doing or talking about. I suspect if we had let him go inside to read we would have lost him for the rest of the day!
5. Create lots of small projects
Little and often seem to work best with kids. If we could start something new, there would be fresh interest, and the boys would rush over to see what was happening next. An advantage of all of us being outside together meant it was relatively easy for me or my husband to stop what we were doing and find something new and fun. All the jobs still got done in the day, just maybe not in the order my husband and I would have preferred. Snacks were frequent and often, and easily allowed one of us to get started on something new.
We still have so much to do! But I am impressed with how much we achieved in one weekend, and how long the boys stayed in the garden. We easily managed 6 hours each day. After a final tidy up, we ate dinner on our new deck and surveyed our work. I could see the boys looking down at what they had helped create, and it was great to talk through with them that all our hard work was worth it. Weather permitting, we will be at it again next weekend, as will the boys!