Updated: Oct 4, 2020
‘To see the world in a grain of sand.
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand.
An eternity in an hour.’
Most people today will recognise the important benefits of gardening with children and the tremendous health benefits being outdoors has, but gardening and being outdoors can offer so much more than a healthy appetite and rosy cheeks. As we delve into the writings of Rudolf Steiner and his work in Bio-Dynamic farming in particular, we can learn how to foster in our children a deep connection to the world around them, in the hope for a better world tomorrow.
Waldorf Education and Gardening.
When researching gardening with children for my own practice as an Early Childhood Educator and as a mother of three children with a front garden to renovate, it came as a surprising fact that Dr Rudolf Steiner, when founding Waldorf Education 100 years ago, didn’t delve much into including gardening as part of the curriculum. As Waldorf schools grew, with their beautiful and extensive grounds, gardening became a natural progression of the curriculum as children moved from kindergarten through the grades.
I found myself delving into Dr. Steiner's lectures on Agriculture and subsequent work and lectures on Bio-dynamic farming to form a foundation and understanding of where and how gardening can truly and deeply benefit the child on their journey through life and help this world we are so closely connected to and a part of, thrive. A world which needs our deep thought and consideration now more than ever.
A brief look at Bio-Dynamic Farming
Bio Dynamic farming in part is concerned with the current lack of connection and respect for the ‘soul’ of land. Farming with, instead of against, the environment and encouraging practice which enables a farm to work as an ‘organism’ self sufficient in its nature and beneficial to the local and wider community it inhabits. The farm in itself becomes a community, a place where people can connect to nature through farming and where farming gives back to the land what it takes through its processes.
The soul of the garden.
If you are fortunate enough to have a garden, make some time, push your hands into the earth, feel the soil between your fingers, smell the earth, be present and mindful of this space, of the sound of nature around you. What memories does this space hold for you, what memories does this space hold from times past? The soul of the natural world and the soul of the human being are intrinsically linked, and in the UK we are only now seeing as more commonplace, gardening as a treatment for mental health, treatments which have been pioneered through Anthroposophy and the work of Rudolf Steiner in other countries for many years. With this in mind, how much does this fact shine a light on how much spiritual and instinctual connection with nature we have lost, when we need someone to tell us to get lost in it.
Gardens are creative spaces, however more often than not they are not exclusively spaces of our own creative making. Over the time it has been, a persons garden has received and grown in the love of owners past, of tender care, gardens are the result of their owners inner personalities and their knowledge, an evolution of thought and feeling, a nest of memories and connection. Referring to the creation of school gardens and reflecting on the words of Dr. Steiner, Rudolf Krause - said;
‘When a (school) garden is created, it becomes a reflection of its creators personality and individuality. Every such creation is a continuation of him/herself - an enlargening of his body and character. The process may be an unconscious one, but it nonetheless occurs’ (A Characterisation of Gardening Classes, Page 9. The Bio-Dynamic Association )
When we allow ourselves to manifest in our gardens, what soul are we giving it? If our gardens are a story of our closest point of contact with nature, what does it tell us about who we are, and who we want our children to be?
If we apply the ideas of bio-dynamic farming, our gardens can become places of soulful connection, linking us intrinsically with the land we care for and cultivate and with our ancestors who didn’t work the earth with scientific knowledge, but with a deep instinct and respect for the natural world around them. Spaces which nourish the outer and inner senses, spaces which set a foundation for the beauty, potential and life giving understand of nature our children carry with them for the rest of their life. A beginning of their relationship with nature.
Deepening the soul in our gardens and outdoor spaces
Fostering Magic and Wonder
Imagine your child has grown; what experiences would you want them to have had in the garden? A tree house? Swinging from a rope? Watching tadpoles? Feeding chickens? Picnic lunches? Water fights? Trying to dig to Australia? Write down these things and think of ways you can and do bring them to life.
Have you ever looked at the twisted trunk of a tree in the afternoon sun, bluebells swaying in a light breeze and imagined a world of fairies and magic, or been able to understand how William Shakespeare may have written A Midsummer Nights Dream? Children experience nature in such an immersive and magical way, they are not separate from it, they are intertwined in its magic and embrace, from the moment they are born. Gardens for children should be a haven for the senses, where they can deepen their connection to nature through their sense touch, smell, taste etc etc children should be allowed to absorb the wonder and beauty of the natural world into themselves, to nourish their senses and to deepen and enhance their play.
Look at the natural environment around you, bring the ‘soul’ of the native land back to your garden, bring the soul of your own ancestors into the garden, what did granny or great granny grow? Children love stories about family members and linking such things with memories from your own past or family will only deepen their connection to the land. There is something magical about being able to find a space to hide in a garden, even if it’s a small one, long grasses and evergreens can screen a small corner where children can feel enclosed by the wonders of the natural world. I always remember finding a willow tree in our local park and loving to sit under it and eat my picnic sandwiches with my favourite teddy bear. Allow your children to make nature their home and haven in play, for it will be their home and haven throughout their lives. A space to dig, to get messy and to experiment through imitation with planting and growing, with culinary delights in a muddy area with a couple of pons, pans and spoons can provide hours of imaginative play and sensory experiences.
Gardens as a living organisms.
Experiencing whole processes allows children to immerse themselves in learning. A garden which allows imitation, a simple child size washing line, a chance to be involved in the work of the garden and a chance to grow vegetables or keep pets, allows children to make connections with not only the work of our ancestors which is so deeply engrained in who we are as human beings, but allows children to see the fruits of work, and that in nurturing the environment, it nurtures us, fostering a deep reverence and respect for our native landscapes. Cottage gardens provide great inspiration for gardens which encourage a natural harmony, in which the garden functions as an organism, mush like a bio-dynamic farm, self sufficient in its nature and nurturing to the gardener and local wildlife. As modern times have developed and new cultivars have been introduced from foreign shores, many native plants and species in the UK (and I expect it is the same in other countries) have declined, some are critically endangered. Ensuring our gardens reflect as much as possible the landscape in which they were born is so important in the preservation of our native eco-system.
Flowers and plants which encourage nature into the garden, flowers for bees, flowers and plants for butterflies and other insects. If in doubt, flowers with a single head and purple flowers are always favoured by honey bees, flowers with bell like petals are great for bumble bees who use their long tongues to get nectar. Herb gardens are great for whole processes too - grown herbs to use in food, and for teas such as peppermint and mint are really wonderful and can be grown easily in the smallest of spaces, growing medicinal herbs such as comfrey, can make a feed which in turn feeds the plants and vegetables.
Animals benefiting the life of the garden
If you have space, pets which offer children to experience the cycle of processes a ‘working garden’ can offer is great, chickens are wonderful, but if you don’t have space for that equally magical are animals such as rabbits, the angora rabbit in particular is a wonderful breed, and one of the oldest domesticated rabbit breeds, if you fancy learning and taking up some whole processes with your children from this furry friend, you can use their malted wool to spin your own angora for knitting! Making a bird table for the garden, a bird feeder and nesting boxes, a small tub buried and made into a pond can bring so much nature and wildlife into the garden which are fascinating for children to watch.
Suggestions for small gardens and cheaply being able to bring soul to a space.
Balconies patios and small yards.
Grow herbs, and lavender they are great in containers. Flowers attract bees, and herbs can be used in cooking, Lavender can be used to make creams and put in the bath for children at bedtime. Whole processes don’t have to involve large scale vegetable planting.
Add some warmth to modern balconies by using some reed screening, or having some potted plants which provide sensory stimulus, potted plants such as bamboo are great as the gentle rustling sound helps screen noise of traffic, and tests have shown that having plants in such places can absorb harmful pollution from the air and roadside.
A simple washing line from string, some pegs, a bowl of water and dolls clothes can make a small yard feel like home and can offer children the opportunity to immerse themselves in imitation and play.
Window boxes attract bees and lots of feeders are now available for birds which stick to windows, meaning children can see the magic of nature easily and they provide welcome nourishment for nature in heavily built up areas.
Remember children are so much smaller than an adult and their perception of size is vastly different, fostering soul in the garden is as much about the connection with what you share in it in a small way than having a garden makeover.
Let’s embrace our children with nature and enable them to foster this deep connection to it, just as our ancestors have done for hundreds of thousands of years. Creating small cells of productivity in our own personal spaces, havens for nature and drops of ointment for the environment as a whole. For every cell we make, every we hope for a richer and nourished tomorrow!