Outdoor Autumn & Winter Garden Activities for Children
While there is much to do in gardens in the spring and summer, people don’t tend to think about outdoor autumn and winter garden activities for children. Once the last of the squash and pumpkins have been harvested, people tend to forget about their gardens. However, the autumn and winter are great times for getting the garden tidied up and more.
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Clearing old plants
When the growing season comes to an end and you have harvested all your crops, it’s time to start clearing the garden for next year! It may seem tempting to just turn your plants into the soil and leave them to rot. However, many plants can have a disease such as blight, so it is better to dig them up. They can then be put in the compost where they can properly break down. Children enjoy doing this and it also helps them to see the life cycle of plants and how plants begin to breakdown and decay.
Raking & picking up leaves
In the autumn there are often many leaves falling from the trees. The amount can vary depending on where you live and the types of trees. If there are a lot of deciduous trees and plants where you live there will be a lot of leaves to rake up. Raking is good for children as it develops for gross motor skills and upper body strength, both essential to support children’s writing. Leaves are great for the compost as they are considered ‘brown’ waste, and it is essential for there to be a high proportion of them.
Compost is a great way to reuse old plants as well as household food waste. To compost, you need a combination of ‘green’ and ‘brown’ waste. Generally ‘green’ waste is fresh plants (and coffee grounds) and ‘brown’ is old plants such as brown leaves, paper, cardboard, etc. Green waste is high in nitrogen while brown waste is high in carbon. You are meant to combine both, with brown waste making up 50% to 75%. You’re more likely to have lots of green waste in the spring and summer and brown waste in the autumn. You may need to mix/stir your compost to help even it out. This will also help ensure that it gets enough oxygen so that the material can continue to break down. For more information on composting you may want to read the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) leaflet on composting.
Planting bulbs is a lovely garden activity to do with children during the autumn. Many bulbs that grow into edible plants are planted in the autumn, then harvested in the spring and summer. There are also many child-friendly flowering bulbs that children can plant in the garden during the autumn. For tips and ideas on which bulbs to plant with children, see my post here.
Plants to grow in winter
If you want to keep gardening through the winter, numerous vegetables are great to grow in winter. These tend to be hardy plants but they may need some protection from frost. This includes plants such as chard (Swiss chard or rainbow chard), Brussel sprouts, cabbage, leeks, kale, parsnips, and cauliflower (winter/spring sprouting), and more. Keep in mind that many of these need to be sown in the spring or summer to be harvested through the winter and early spring.
The end of the growing season is an ideal time to collect seeds for next year. While some of this will need to be done in the summertime, some seeds can be collected throughout the autumn. For example, we normally collect our Nasturtium seeds sometime between August and November. See my post on collecting seeds with children for tips on great flowers to grow with children and how to collect their seeds.
Make seed bombs
Seed bombs are a really fun outdoor activity to do in the garden in the autumn or winter. It’s a great chance for children to play with seeds and mud! They can make seed bombs and then enjoy throwing them in the garden or outside as a way to spread wildflowers. Sadly, some wildflowers are on the decline and many areas where they once grew have been destroyed. This will also help bees and butterflies that rely on wildflowers to live. Doing little things like planting wildflowers with seed bombs is a simple way for children to help the environment. See my post – Sowing & Spreading Wild Flowers with Seed Bombs.
Propagate plants in water
Propagating plants in water is a great autumn or winter gardening activity for children. Plants can be propagated in water from cuttings, offshoots or runners depending on the plant. They can be grown in water on an ongoing basis or they can be rooted and then planted out in the soil. Autumn is a good time to do this as there should be some good growths to take cuttings from. It’s a fun and easy activity to do with children with the right plants. See my post on propagating plants with children for tips on how to do this.
Benefits of outdoor autumn & winter garden activities for children
Gardening provides many benefits for both adults and children. Yuan-Yu et al. (2016) found that hands-on gardening is particularly beneficial to children’s learning. Outdoor learning has been found to support learning in maths and science and the use of creative and critical thinking skills (Waliczek, T.M., Logan, P. & Zajicek, J.M., 2003). Garden activities have also been found to promote children’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) for learning (Laaksoharju, Rappe & Kaivoa, 2012). Working in the garden all year long also allows children to see how weather, plants and animals change through the seasons. Children can see first hand how plants grow and change.
Many gardening activities help develop gross and fine motor skills. Clearing up old plants, digging and raking leaves helps build muscles and gross motor skills. Activities such as cutting and sculpting seed bombs help in the develop of fine motor skills.
Gardening is associated with a range of health outcomes including improved physical, psychological and social health (Soga et al., 2017; Soga, Gaston & Yamaura, 2017; Dopko, R.L., Capaldi, C.A., & Zelenski, J.M., 2019). There is growing research to show that nature has positive effects on children’s mental health and wellbeing including measures of resilience, self-esteem, stress, and quality of life (related to health) (Tillmann, et al., 2018; Van Lier, L. E., et al., 2016; Yuan-Yu et al., 2016).
Outdoor Autumn & Winter Garden Activities for Children – Take it further
There are lots of great ways to get children into gardening. The activities above are great hands on ways to start the process. See my posts on growing seeds and bulbs. You should also see my propagating plants in water and Sowing & Spreading Wild Flowers with Seed Bombs. Finally, you may also want to see my posts on making bird feeders using pinecones or How to Make a Bird Feeder without Peanut Butter (Suet Cake). Please let me know if you think of any more outdoor autumn and winter garden activities for children.
Soga, M., Cox, D.T., Yamaura, Y., Gaston, K. J., Kurisu, K. and Hanaki, K. (2017). Health Benefits of Urban Allotment Gardening: Improved Physical and Psychological Well-Being and Social Integration. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(1), 71.
Tillmann S, Tobin D, Avison W, and Gilliland, J. (2018). Mental health benefits of interactions with nature in children and teenagers: a systematic review. Journal of Epidemiol Community Health. 72:958-966.
Van Lier, L. .E., Uttler, J., Denny, S., Lucassen, M., Dyson, B., Terryann, C. (2016). Home Gardening and the Health and Well-Being of Adolescents. Health Promotion Through Arts and Gardening, 18 (1), 34-43.
Soga, M., Gaston, K., J., Yamaura, Y. (2017). Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive Medicine Reports, 5, 92-99.
Yuan-Yu, C., Wei-Chia, S. I-Chun, T. and Chun-Yen, C. (2016). Exploring the Benefits of School Gardening for Children in Taiwan and Identifying the Factors Influencing these Benefits. HortTechnology, 26 (6), 783-792.
Waliczek, T.M., Logan, P. & Zajicek, J.M. (2003). Exploring the Impact of Outdoor Environmental Activities on Children Using a Qualitative Text Data Analysis System. HortTechnology, 13(4), 684-688.
Laaksoharju, Rappe & Kaivola (2012). Garden affordances for social learning, play, and for building nature–child relationship. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 11 (2), 195-203.
Dopko, R.L., Capaldi, C.A., & Zelenski, J.M. (2019). The psychological and social benefits of a nature experience for children: A preliminary investigation. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 63, 134-138.