Getting children involved with gardening at an early stage can be very rewarding and this is not lost on activity groups like Cubs and Brownies. They do, of course, have to be very sensitive to the safety of the children in their charge though.
This is usually applied to background checks on any leaders and volunteers working with the children and making sure that children are safe on trips away to camps or other attractions. But gardening presents specific problems, as we discovered when we spoke to Helen Bogle, the leader of a Brownie pack in North East England.
Paperwork and Security Checks
“There are still a number of standard hoops that you have to jump through before taking the children out gardening, just like any other activity,” Helen told us. “Paperwork has increased no end in the last few years and a lot of that is about liability and responsibility. If I take the girls anywhere I have to have signed forms back from all the parents to say that they have given permission for their child to go on that activity.”
It’s probably no surprise that it can be a nightmare getting the signed forms back.
“Either the child forgets to give it to their parents or the parents forget to sign it and send it back the following week,” she added. “On a number of occasions I’ve had to take a tearful girl back home because I can’t allow them to do the activity without the form. And of course, as far as the parents are concerned, it’s my fault for enforcing the regulations, not theirs for not doing their part.”
Safety and Use of Tools
Taking a group of girls somewhere to do gardening presents slightly different problems, particularly with safety. Armed with a bucket load of chemicals to deal with the inevitable insect stings, Helen tries to get extra parents to help out on a gardening night as it means there are more adults to help with the use of garden tools. The girls ages range from five to eleven, so the older ones really need adult tools as play tools simply won’t do the job.
“The problems aren’t so much with the sharpness of tools but the difficulty that small children have controlling them,” she explained. “They can’t dig properly, because they don’t understand how to put their weight on the spade or fork and of course they don’t have that much weight in the first place.”
Having lots of adults to help out means that they can do any heavy digging and at the same time keep an eye on the groups as they prepare the ground with their tools. The Brownies can concentrate on getting as dirty as possible, planting, weeding and watering.
“We never use enough water for that to be a hazard,” Helen said, “and our current gardening location doesn’t have a pond or anything, just a tap, so I don’t have to worry about that. We don’t use any chemicals either, it’s simple gardening.”
Feeding Local Wildlife
Not using chemicals does have its downside though. “Once, after the summer term had finished, I went back to the place where the Brownies had their patch and there was nothing to be seen, the whole lot had been eaten!”
Fortunately gardening is only done in the summer term and they start again each year so there was little chance that any of the Brownies would come across the devastating scene. “We can just pretend everything died back during winter and start again in the late spring,” Helen laughed.