Advocacy, Community, Outdoors

Garden gathering – Why community gardens are the perfect place for playgroup

 It’s a lovely autumn day. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and butterflies are moving from plant to plant. Wind rustles through palm fronds and if your oldest child stands on their tip-tip-tip toes they can just see over the windowsill to the outside. They can see a gorgeous brown lizard sunning itself on a rock.  You are sitting on a comfy couch in your local community hall, surrounded by single use plastic toys discarded on the floor and a chaos of children running in circles, stepping on each other and generally just climbing the walls. You’re nursing your second cuppa and a half eaten chocolate cookie. Whilst you like the chance to chat with other mums, you find it all a little stressful.  You can see your child would much rather be outside and if we’re going to be honest, you probably would too. But playgroups are much easier to run inside, where children are pent up securely, aren’t they? And what about toys? Children need toys, don’t they?  With recent statistics showing that most children spend the majority of time indoors, on a flat screen or in front of a small screen, what children need is an outdoor environment they can explore, take ownership of, love and enjoy.

Family day care educator Kathy Springate with seedlings for the children
 It’s no longer a radical notion, with pioneering authors such as Richard Louv discussing the dire need for children to immerse themselves in outside play, and more recently articles running in The Huffington Post and Parenting Magazines almost daily discussing the benefits of outdoor environments for children. The difficult question then becomes where?  As a co-ordinator and family day care educator, I found it almost impossible to find a regular outdoor gathering with other educators or families in outdoor appropriate environments.  That is until I discovered the wonder of community gardens.  Often open only limited hours, community gardens are an incredible way to connect with your local community, volunteers and other families, as well as immerse children in the wonder of propagating seedlings, planting, weeding and harvesting.  Many towns and suburbs have them and they are filled with an abundance of friendly folk, lush green environments and the brilliance of an outdoor classroom. Most Community Gardens are fully fenced, making them a wonderful playground for parents who are learning to let go of their helicopter wings.  
The Oaklands Street Community Garden’s Garden Gathering was established with the particular aim of bringing families, carers, and family educators together – regardless of scheme- and allowing the children to immerse themselves in child-led gardening activities or general unstructured outdoor play. There is a myriad of things for the children to access- watering cans, gardening tools, seedlings, vegetable patches, fruit orchards, worm farms and compost bins.

There are mounds of soil, trees to climb and large areas to run. A curlew pair hover in the bushes by the wishing well and there is always a lizard, bird, beetle or butterfly to pique a child’s interest.

Family day care educator Juan Perez pulls the weed trolley while children navigate and push
 There are plans to incorporate fire work when winter comes in, and a pizza oven that is just waiting to be fired up again.  In the time that it’s been running, I’ve never heard anyone complain that they are bored, there is always as much or as little to do as the child wants, or can find.  There’s no mess of plastic toys to clean up and no craptivities– just an abundance of fresh air, smiles and exhausted children at the end of the session.   Find your nearest community garden, take the time to get to know them- you will find they are an amazing bunch of people that love the sound of children laughing amongst the trees, and are keen to pass the joys of gardening to the younger generation. You’ll find that community gardens really are the perfect place for playgroups!  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  Katchia Avenell is an Early Childhood Educator and Family Day Care Educator Mentor with Inspired Family Day Care

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