So it’s hot outside – that doesn’t mean your little ones can’t get up close with nature. Kids will get a kick out of completing these tactile, all-season activities that merge imagination, creativity, botany and a little bit of practical magic. You also don’t need a garden – if you have a balcony or windowsill, you’re good to go. With an emphasis on upcycling and sustainability, each of these easy projects is designed to encourage children to engage with the real world, not tech. As well as the fun of getting their hands dirty, the bigger reward lies in watching something grow that they have nurtured themselves, thereby encouraging them to care for and appreciate all forms of life.

Making a scene

Inspired by the terrarium trend and museum dioramas, there’s great fun to be had in planting a clear container with succulents, moss and plastic wildlife.

You will need

  • An assortment of glass or clear plastic/acrylic containers: terrariums, vases, medium to large Mason jars as well as small fish bowls or tanks
  • Child-friendly, spike-free succulents
  • Spray-bottle filled with water
  • Small pebbles as well as decorative stones
  • Potting soil
  • Moss (available from garden centres)
  • Plastic animal toys

Instructions

  • Place a generous layer of small stones or pebbles in the bottom of the container
  • Top with soil, leaving a few inches of space at the top for plants (depending on their size) and small plastic toys
  • Plant the succulents and create scenes using the toys and moss
  • Spray with a fine mist of water as needed

Tips

  • A terrarium makes a great DIY gift for little friends: pop a suitable container, several small succulents and a mini spray-bottle into a gift box along with soil, pebbles and plastic toys sorted into separate Ziploc bags. Don’t forget hand-written instructions
  • There’s no limit to how creative you can get: think colourful gravel, fairies and toadstools and dinosaurs
  • Before assembling your terrarium, mark the inside of the jar with dots of glow-in-the-dark paint or your child’s name to up the fun factor

Growth spurts

Let children observe the magic of a how a cutting grows its roots – a quick way to propagate plants for free and a valuable lesson in appreciating just how awesome nature really is

You will need

  • A sterilised medium-sized glass bottle
  • Cuttings from healthy plants that will root easily without nursery-bought rooting hormones. Try species such as African violet, geranium, mint, impatiens, philodendron, English ivy and spider plants.

Instructions

  • Help your kids cut a three to six-inch section of stem from a healthy-looking plant by making a clean, angled snip above a leaf node
  • Let them remove leaves from the bottom 1/3 or half of the cutting so you are left with a bare stalk and a few leaves on the top section
  • Put the cutting in the bottle of water, submerging only the leafless stem
  • Place the bottle in a place that gets partial sunlight and that is neither too hot nor cold
  • Once the roots are several inches long the cutting is ready to transplant into soil

Tips

  • Keep the water topped up and replace once a week or sooner if it becomes cloudy
  • Let kids feel like mini scientists by displaying their cuttings in test tubes or beakers
  • Upcycled chutney, ketchup and glass soda bottles filled with cuttings, displayed en masse from a metal frame, will create an eye-catching decorative element 

Potty personalities

Let kids decorate their own plastic pots with cute faces and then fill them with succulents and indoor plants to resemble funky hairstyles 

You will need

  • Plain white plastic pots
  • Succulents or indoor plants
  • Soil
  • Permanent markers

Instructions

  • Give the kids their own pots and let them have free reign in drawing faces with permanent marker
  • Help them fill the pots with soil and their chosen plants
  • Leave the potty personalities indoors or on the balcony in a good spot and let them take care of the watering (and cutting back if necessary)

Tips

  • Avoid succulents with small thorns that can stick in little hands
  • Herbs such as chives, parsley, rosemary, thyme and basil also make for funny-looking hairdos and can be left on the kitchen windowsill for regular trimming to use in cooking or munching
  • Older children can use ceramic markers on terracotta pots to design pretty patterns or more elaborate drawings

Let’s be buds

You say potato, I say beautiful indoor plant… The trailing, vine-like leaves of a sweet potato make for a whimsical and unusual addition to your collection of indoor plants. Kids will take pride in knowing that they have grown something so unusual and, quite frankly, cool

You will need

  • A few healthy, wrinkle-free sweet potatoes – even better if little sprouts are beginning to shoot out of the sweet potato ‘eyes’
  • Clean glass jars and bottles with wide enough necks to place the potatoes into.

Instructions

  • Fill the jars almost to the top with water and place the bottom of the sweet potato into it so that it is resting in the water
  • Keep at least the top 1/3 of the potato out of the water
  • Place in a sunny or semi-sunny spot and wait for the magic to happen
  • Vines with stems will begin to sprout in a few weeks

Tips

  • Maintain the health of your sweet potato vines and the mother plant by keeping the water in your container clean. Change once a week or when it becomes murky
  • Snip off any vines that have started to brown and wither

Code green

Kids can keep track of what they’re growing (and you get to slip in a little spelling lesson along the way) by crafting cute washi tape flags and jotting down plant names onto them

You will need

  • Rolls of plain washi tape
  • Scissors
  • Markers
  • Wooden takeaway chopsticks or wooden skewers

Instructions

  • Cut a piece of washi tape to the length you’d like your flag to be
  • Wrap that piece of washi in half around the top of the chopstick or kebab stick
  • Trim further if it’s too long and cut a small triangle out of the centre to make a flag shape
  • Write down the name of the herb or plant and stick the chopstick into the soil so that the flag sits above the top leaves

Tips

  • If your child can’t yet read, come up with a colour code together that will help identify the different plants: orange for rosemary, pink for mint, yellow for tomatoes, green for lettuce and so on
  • Vary the shapes of the flags for interest 

Read more: 

10 Unique ways to entertain the kids in Dubai this summer 

24 gorgeous ideas to create a magical playroom for your kids 

7 ways to get your kids closer to nature in the UAE  

Text: Mandy Allen/ Bureaux; Production:Jeanne Botes;
Photos: Warren Heath/ Bureaux www.bureaux.co.za.