Today, we follow up last month’s wildlife attracting guide for Under-5s with another, more specific, activity for children to undertake outdoors. This time, we outline easy-to-accomplish flower growing activities that children can enjoy, to attract bees and other friendly insects to the garden. While flowering plants can be purchased commercially ready-grown, we’ll concentrate today on ways children can grow wildlife-friendly flowers themselves, from seed. After all, it’s far cheaper, much more fun as an activity, teaches children more about nature and will also give them a greater sense of achievement. If it all goes well, the result will be some pretty flowers to brighten the place up as well as a host of charming and beautiful little creatures visiting. Children may get to see different types of bee perhaps along with butterflies, hover flies, ladybirds and probably many more wonderful creatures that might otherwise never have visited. Children will generally find flowers, bees and butterflies not only beautiful to look at, but also fascinating once they really start to look closely. After all, what’s not to love about stunning flowers and the cute, colourful pollinators that will visit them!
Sourcing Bee-Friendly Seeds
Parents/guardians of under-fives will need to supervise which seeds to buy — or to harvest free of charge at the end of a previous season. If purchased, they’re inexpensive with seed packets typically costing as little as £1.99 from places like Suttons, garden centres and even online from some supermarkets. Look out for seeds that are marked as suitable for growing bee-friendly and/or butterfly-friendly flowers, or are simply suitable for pollinators. Typical examples include seeds for poppies, sunflowers, forget-me-nots, sedum, buddleia, nasturtium, daisies, cornflower, cosmos and calendula. Even herbs will grow fragrant flowers that’ll attract pollinators if you allow them to grow to maturity. Good examples include mint, basil and thyme, any of which would serve a secondary purpose of being useful to eat — another useful and educational benefit of this activity for young children.
Even easier are seed packets that contain mixed wildflower seeds. As the name suggests, these contain a real mix, resulting in multi-coloured flowers that’ll liven up flower pots, balconies or garden beds and attract a multitude of different pollinator visitors.
Fun-to-Grow Seeds Just for Children
Suttons and other seed suppliers even offer whole ranges of bee-friendly flower seeds just for children. These include a ‘Bug Magnet’ flower seed kit for kids containing Calendula daisy seeds, 8 bug stickers and even a magnifying glass for closer inspection of the visiting bees, butterflies and insects. The price of that example is only £2.49 (price correct at time of writing — even cheaper if you’re a member). Sainsbury’s offers something completely different with their Bee-Friendly Flower Bomb Kits for little ones. Timing of this post is perfect too, as all these seeds can be sown during March, April and May, with flowers appearing anywhere from March to the end of September.
Sowing the Seeds
Commercially-supplied seeds will usually have instructions for sowing on the packets, so these can be followed easily. Generally speaking, though, there are a couple of main ways to sow flower seeds:
- The easiest way is for children to simply scatter seeds (spaced out according to individual instructions) onto some soft soil that’s been pre-prepared so it’s free of weeds. That might be, for example, in a flower bed, window box or in flower pots. The seeds can then be covered by a thin covering of sieved soil or compost and then slightly firmed down.
- Alternatively, children can sow the seeds in seed trays, flower pots, used yoghurt or margarine cartons or similar, so long as whatever they use has drainage holes at the bottom (adults may need to supervise that part, for safety reasons). Drip trays will be needed underneath if this part is initially housed indoors. The earth used can be soil brought in from the outdoors or, of course, compost (suitable for seedlings and ideally peat-free as it’s better for the planet). Using this approach instead of the outdoor scattering approach will allow children to manually space out individual seeds more easily, once they’ve actually sprouted.
Either way, the soil should be kept moist over coming days/weeks, so children should check on progress daily.
Read the seed packet because some seeds can be poisonous. Therefore, this activity should be undertaken only with the close supervision of a responsible adult. Children will need to be closely monitored when handling seeds and earth, and will need to take appropriate safety precautions, for example keeping hands away from the mouth and eyes and washing their hands with soap and water afterwards.
Along with regular watering, a suitable organic liquid feed will help to bring on some types of seedlings. However, as some liquid feeds can be poisonous, handling of it is best left to a supervising adult.
After about ten days to two weeks or so, seedlings should start to appear through the soil. Once they start to grow significantly, it may be necessary for children to ‘thin’ some of them out, by transplanting any that are cramped, so there’s only one plant every few inches. This will allow each plant to grow to a significant size in the coming weeks, free of overcrowding.
Once they’re mature, flowers should begin to appear and then it all starts to look rather beautiful. It may even be fragrant, depending on the plants chosen.
Along Come the Bees, Butterflies & More
Once flowers are coming through, many types of delightful pollinators will soon follow. These are likely to include various types of bee, different kinds of butterfly, hover flies, ladybirds and potentially many other pollinators.
Children Learn from Nature
Children can then have educational fun taking a closer (but careful) look at the visiting creatures and perhaps even saying ‘hello’. Actually, it’s not a bad idea to encourage children to greet the visiting pollinators in this way because it demonstrates to children that each is a little being that deserves to live safely and be given space, peace and respect. Teaching children to recognise even the smallest creatures as individuals may also help to reduce the chances of children being fearful of them. After all, little pollinators are generally very harmless, hard-working creatures who just want to go about their business in peace. They are, though, completely charming when you take the time to watch them and this is too easily missed by children if they’re glued to screens or kept indoors too much. Given the opportunity, children learn and benefit so much from nature, so this activity is very worthwhile one for under-fives and, indeed, for children of any age. Learning from/about nature also supports the ‘Understanding the World‘ aspect of the EYFS curriculum, which is so incredibly important to under-fives.
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Next time, we’ll publish a wonderful guide to bird feeders that children can make at home.