Transcript: Therapeutic Gardening For Kids: Making That Connection With Nature

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Therapeutic Gardening For Kids: Making That Connection With Nature and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

Have you found that sometimes when organising activities for toddlers and children that it is easy to over complicate it? Whether it’s looking for the lego or craft materials or something else it can all get too hard when you’re busy and just want to get something going now, to keep them occupied for a while!

If this sounds familiar then you’re going to love this week’s episode where I’m talking with guest Rachel Strivelli. Rachel is an Intuitive, writer and organic gardening coach.

You’ll hear us talk about:-

  • How introducing your kids to gardening gives them that all important connection with the earth and nature.
  • How spending time in your yard or garden with your kids is an activity in itself requiring no planning or materials.
  • How your child will learn to calm themselves and relax in their outdoor surroundings.

And much more. Let’s get started…

Helen Thompson: Hi Rachel and welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat. I’ve been really excited about talking to you today. We’re going to be talking all about how gardening can help with kids and how you can get kids out into the open.

Rachel Strivelli: Sure thing. Thank you, Helen. I’m excited to be here. Hello, all you moms out there. Well, my parents put me in the garden and that was one of the things that I embraced and over time it just became a part of who I am and when I had my first place, as a young adult where it was my own house that had a yard, I thought I’m going to put in a garden.

And I asked my roommates and they said, sure and ever since then I’ve been hooked. And I even went to graduate school for soil science, because I learned that organic gardening, that’s one of the things that you want to do, when you’re growing organic garden is building up the soil. And then when I had my first child, almost eight years ago now, I got even more into gardening because I saw all the ways that I could be out there with her and just how it made our whole family experience richer. And it has been a lot of fun.

Helen Thompson: I can imagine and having all that lovely, fresh produce to show to your child. It’s not coming from the supermarket and she actually knows where it’s coming from. I think that’s a huge thing in gardening. It’s huge that you can introduce that to your children.

Rachel Strivelli: Yes, it’s true and it’s funny. So we got chickens when she was little. Yes and I like to go a little bit all in on things. So we didn’t just buy a chicken that was already an adult. We bought little baby chicks that were three days old and we raised them. And so my daughter was two and we had the chickens.

And so from an early age, she realized, chicken, the animal is chicken on the plate and she became a vegetarian because of that. And it was just so obvious and amazing to me of how she was making the connections. I didn’t even have to make connections for her. She was just doing it herself realizing, this is that.

So moments like that happened. We don’t have chickens anymore because they became a little bit more than we wanted to handle, but it’s the little things like that, that you don’t even realize. All of a sudden your life starts taking these interesting turns because you develop a new hobby and bring your whole family along with you.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, lovely about the chickens, I think starting them from scratch. That would have been so nice. Seeing them produce. Did they produce the eggs later on as well?

Rachel Strivelli: Yes. And then we got a rooster, a small rooster who’s pretty quiet because I didn’t want all my neighbors to be mad at me for a rooster crowing all the time! And so then even a year later, the rooster and one of the hens had babies. She hid some of her eggs, I didn’t know and then the next year we had new chickens that were from one of the chickens that had been a baby the year before. So it was this whole circle of life and it was amazing. It also made me realize, the parts of farming, homesteading, gardening that were a little bit too much, like at a certain point, my husband felt like this is getting out of hand for where I think it’s going to go.

But that’s fine. Sometimes you only know how much is too much when you get there. So, yeah, like I said, we don’t have the chickens anymore, but they did produce their own eggs and it was amazing. Like we’d feed the chickens insects that were from the garden and then the eggs, the color got even richer and they got even tastier.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, real free range eggs you can really taste the difference. Yeah, I can imagine. Cause I was brought up on a farm as well, but we didn’t have chickens but the next door neighbor did. And I always used to get the eggs from her because they were just really beautiful eggs.

Rachel Strivelli: Oh, that’s wonderful.

Helen Thompson: You mentioned that you’d composted. You used your own organic ways to build a garden up. So what are some of your tips on how you do that?

Rachel Strivelli: Yes. So I really like to make gardening as easy as possible because I don’t know if this is just how I am, but I love my kids, but sometimes parenting is overwhelming. Cause there’s always things changing and new things happening and things I have to do. And so, if I know that’s going to take a lot of my focus and energy, I want to make the other areas of my life simpler so that I can really, pour into my kids. And so my compost. I take the veggie scraps. I take the coffee grounds, cause we drink coffee, vegetable peelings, apple cores and I put it in a bin and then I cover it with either some dried leaves or straw or hay, whatever I have around. Sometimes I shred up paper and then I just let it sit. And there are people out there who will turn it and spin it and do all these things and I think, it’s going to decompose eventually.

So I just put it in and let it go and then a few months later, I’ll add it to the garden and that’s always fun when the kids are there too. Cause then they’re inevitably insects are in the compost. And so one of the other parts about gardening with my kids that I really love is they’re not afraid of insects because we go outside, we’ll put down a blanket and have a picnic or we’ll work in the garden and we talk to the butterflies. And so they’re not afraid of being outdoors so they don’t think every insect means that they need to freak out and run away.

Helen Thompson: That’s good.

Rachel Strivelli: Oh, and the other thing I really like about it is, when my daughter was born, I felt a little bit overwhelmed by being a new mom and I didn’t have many mom friends. I didn’t have any mom friends actually, who were also stay at home moms. So I had to start fresh and getting outside with her every day was one of the things I felt like it was good for both of us, because I could get some fresh air. And even when it wasn’t the gardening season, we would just hang out in the yard and walk around or look at the plants.

And it made me feel that it was nice time we’re spending together. And she was hearing the birds and feeling the wind and we were looking at leaves and sticks and things, and I didn’t have to plan anything ahead of time and come up with an activity because just going outside and exploring was the activity.

Helen Thompson: Yeah and she’d build her own activity from doing that. She’d look at something and say, look at this mom, because nature and play are just so important. And I think we’ve rather lost touch with all of the nature and actually getting out into the garden and talking to somebody like you, I think is a great way to encourage moms and kids to get out because it’s self-care for you and it’s self care for the child. You’re teaching the child, how to calm down, how to relax, how to get in touch with nature. And at the same time you’re doing the same thing yourself and I think it brings in the self care part for you, because I think self-care for moms is so important and being out in nature is a great way to do that.

Rachel Strivelli: I agree. Depending on where you live, it might be the easiest and cheapest form of self care you can do practically because you just walk outside and there it is. I love it and even now, my kids are older, so I have an eight year old and a three-year-old. And if we’re inside too much, everybody just starts to get a little bit stir crazy and my husband will say, we need to get them outside. Let’s go out. Let’s run around. And I still, most times don’t come up with, here are the activities we’re doing. We either go in the yard or we go for a walk and the kids set the tone of what we’re going to do. They’ll find pine cones or leaves and sometimes we make up songs and I mean, I like to sing, I don’t mind coming up with silly songs. So if it makes it more fun for them, then I figure we’re all having a good time.

Helen Thompson: That’s right. And finding pine cones. There’s lots of things you can do with them. Develop things, make things. Put little eyes in. I come from a childcare background, so I’m aware of how good nature is for kids. Even babies, you can take them outside. Obviously, you’ve got to make sure they’re covered up and safe in the sun. So many people, they cover their babies up or they put them in the pram and they go for a walk.

But from what you’re saying, it’s important to get them out at a young age so that they know and maybe when they’re two and a half or three, get them to put the seeds in the garden. Teach them how to use the compost, teach them how to rake, so then they can see it growing and they’re thinking, oh, I must go and water that. You’re giving them encouragement to look after something other than themselves.

Rachel Strivelli: Yes and you’re hitting upon a great thing. So, because I’m such a big fan of gardening and nature and I used to teach environmental education at nonprofit. So I’ve looked into a lot, what are some of the benefits that we get from doing these things? And as a mom, one of the things that I love is kids learn empathy and compassion and caring by spending time out in nature because like you said, when they plant the seeds, well, then they start thinking, maybe I need to care for that. Maybe I need to go check on that. And it builds these qualities in them. I mean I love Legos I love Play-Doh, but it’s not a living thing.

Yeah, exactly and there’s more qualities too. Like they find that people are more happy and peaceful, which goes back to the self-care piece and more resilient when we’re doing these types of activities outside. And so when my daughter was really little, I either had her in a carrier, a baby carrier on me, or I would put down a blanket and a little bonnet or sun hat if it was pretty sunny and she’d be beside me and I’d be in the garden. I’d hand her seed packets, not ones that were open, she was going to put it in her mouth, or I’d hand her vegetables. And so I have pictures of her as a baby with seed packets in her hand and a pepper in her hand and kids are more likely to eat something that they actually grew and that’s a thing that parents sometimes deal with. This whole, how do I get them to eat the food that’s good for them? Well, if you’re growing strawberries in your garden and tomatoes, the kids want to eat them.

Helen Thompson: You mentioned in your compost because I do a compost as well that you put coffee grinds in, and I know coffee grinds are very acidic. You’re more experienced than me on this, but I also know that coffee grinds are good for strawberries because strawberries like acidic soil. They don’t like a neutral soil.

Rachel Strivelli: Yes and you know, that’s another funny thing. Gardening is kind of like parenting in that it takes time. You have to be patient. Although sometimes with gardening, you get results much faster than with kids.

Helen Thompson: Yeah well, that’s true, but if you’ve encouraged your children to be in the garden, as you said, from a young age, you get the results quicker from your child because they know how to diffuse. They know how to, if they’re getting stressed, if they’re getting worked up, they think right, well, all I need to do is to go out in the garden, relax, and then you’ve got that shift straightaway. So I guess you can look at it on both sides from that point.

Rachel Strivelli: Yes and you know, it makes me think too, there have been several times during the pandemic where I noticed my fuse was getting too short with my family and I was getting cranky and I tell everybody I need alone time outside in the garden. And even though I love family time in the garden, I also have to have my time where I just get out there and it’s just me. And sometimes I have a walk and sometimes I just sit there and no one’s talking to me and I just have a few moments and then I come back inside and I’m fine, but I needed the time to look at the flowers and look at the sky and not have 10 people. Well, I don’t have 10 people in my family, but sometimes it feels like three people or 10 people. So yeah, sometimes I just need no one talking to me and that quiet time to fill my cup back up again and go back in and then everybody’s doing better.

Helen Thompson: Yeah and it’s good that you have a garden because a lot of people don’t have gardens, they don’t have a backyard and I can imagine it can be quite ratty for a family who don’t have that. People can go out and actually it’s that wow factor. They’re actually going outside thinking, wow, this is fantastic. Look at the trees and they’ve got that time to actually sit down and look at things.

Rachel Strivelli: Yes, exactly and there were a few years where I lived in an apartment and I just had a couple of plant pots on the porch, on the balcony, cause that’s all I could do. And I thought well, I’ll make the most of it. And then when I had more space, then I put some in the ground. So I definitely think it’s possible. If you have a desire to do it, it doesn’t even have to be a vegetable. Some people love having an oregano plant or a sage plant or growing something that’s herbs that they can use in the kitchen in some way or flowers are what make them happy.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, exactly. It doesn’t have to be a huge garden. I agree with you and I think that’s still encouraging children to get outside. It’s still using that empathy as you were saying, getting them out there and showing them how to plant things. Even sunflowers, you can put them outside in a pot and they’re very good for the bees.

Rachel Strivelli: Definitely and that makes me think of another fun thing is sometimes that’s a good gift. If you want to give the kid’s teacher a gift or the preschool teacher, you plant a little sunflower in a pot together, and then you can give it to someone.

Helen Thompson: Yeah. Especially for a teacher. The teacher has gone through the process of helping you to grow throughout the year with what she’s teaching and you’re giving her something she can watch to grow and yeah, that’s a great concept. I like that and it’s not an expensive gift.

Rachel Strivelli: No, but it’s one of those that brings a lot of joy. I was a public school teacher for a number of years and a few times students gave me a plant or a coworker gave me a plant. And then every time I saw the plant, I thought of them. And so that makes it extra special.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, exactly and if it’s out in your garden, you can think about your pupils and everything. No, I think that’s good. So have you got any other tips that you’d like to share?

Rachel Strivelli: Well, this one is maybe less scientific. Although I have read that they’re doing studies to say that this is helpful, but if you have a chance to put your bare feet on the ground. They call it grounding. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this, but it is to walk a little bit or sit outside on the ground and it’s supposed to calm your nervous system down and make you feel just calmer and better. And I think it’s so simple, but I really love the simple things because I don’t need to plan it or pack it or purchase it. I just go outside and enjoy the space and take my shoes off. I don’t like to get a lot of dirt on my feet cause that’s just uncomfortable to me, but I’ll sit out there and put my feet on the ground, even when it’s cold just to have that sensory experience.

Oh and, and that makes me think, that’s the other exciting thing for kids too that’s really great, especially for little, little children, babies even is the brain development that you’re helping facilitate with them when you’re putting them in these rich sensory environments. You’re going for a walk and maybe you put some mint leaves between your fingers and put it to your baby’s nose and you hear the birds. I mean, whenever I hear the birds outside, I tell my kids and my son’s always looking around to find where the bird is that I’m talking about. And I’m thinking, I don’t know where it is in the trees, but I can hear it. And so it lights our brains up to be thinking about the sounds and the touch and the smells and the tastes, all of that is such a rich experience and it’s what makes being alive really exciting. I’m sure, you know, from the massage, the more that we can do that, the better we feel.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I love you brought that up because from a childcare background, as well as baby massage, but particularly from the childcare background, I used to do that all the time with kids. Take them outside, let them touch your grass and touch the sand and just walk with no shoes on outside.

And I think, if they’ve got that touch of nature and you mentioned grounding, it does help. It helps you touch base with nature and say thank you to nature as well. And one of the things I do, not so much with younger kids, but with older kids, when I go for a walk I’ll cuddle trees.

Rachel Strivelli: Oh, I love that.

Helen Thompson: I’ll give trees a hug and I’ll always say, thank you for your support, thank you for your encouragement. You’ve inspired me to keep walking and I always thank the tree for the cuddle as well. I feel that’s, that’s an important thing to do because, I don’t know how to explain it. I guess you’re taking the sap from the tree to give you energy. But you’re also saying thank you to the tree at the same time.

Rachel Strivelli: Yes oh, I love that and I have this online program. It’s called Nourish Your Soul With Nature and you get it via your email and there’s some videos and handouts and prompts. And so over the course of three weeks, every day, you get a different activity or suggestion of something to do outside, to engage with nature in a new way.

And like you’re talking about, one of the ones is going and interacting with the plants because in our modern day, we’re around humans all the time. And a lot of us have pets or animals that we’re around, but how often are we interacting with plants and just acknowledging what they’re doing and our relationship with them.

And I think it’s really special to look around at your world and feel like, my attitude is all of these other living creatures, they’re like my brothers and sisters. Now they speak a different language or they don’t speak at all, but, or I don’t know how to speak plant language. I’m sure there are some people who can, but I interact with them and I think we’re all in this world together. And I like to have whatever relationship I can with these things. And yeah. So I like to hug them and talk to them. I talk to the flowers in my yard and I say, hello. And I think it’s, it’s really special to feel more at home, in a place and feel like you belong because we don’t just belong to humans. I feel like we belong where we live and we belong to the land and we belong to the air and to the sky and with the plants.

Helen Thompson: Yeah now I won’t go into this too much, but the original custodians of Australia were the Aborigines and they very much know the land and know where they’re going. They get in touch with nature.

Rachel Strivelli: I think so too. And I’ve heard about the aboriginal people there, although I don’t know if that word is correct to use or not. Some of the ways in which I see nature here is from learning from the indigenous people where I live or from books I’ve read, this is how they treat the land. And I’ve thought that makes sense to me. And I love that some of them have been able to carry on this tradition today and I think there’s more attention coming back to think, well, let’s look into this because there’s a lot there of knowledge and wisdom that they have.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, and it’s respect as well. It goes back to bringing up our children and teaching our children respect not only for themselves, but for the land at the same time. And I think a lot of things we need to do in this world too.

Rachel Strivelli: A hundred percent agree and also, with this respect, like you’re saying, I think it brings the kids up with this feeling of, I respect myself. I respect the land, I respect other people. I it’s a really great foundation to have.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, definitely. I definitely agree with you there. So you’ve mentioned a little bit about this before, but to find out more about your pearls of wisdom and to get in touch with you and do this email course that you suggested, how do they go about doing that? How do they get in touch with you?

Rachel Strivelli: Yes, I would be delighted. So my website is Soul Pioneer and on there one of the first tabs you see says Nourish and you can click on that link and the email course is there. And it’s priced below $100, although we have different currencies, but still I wanted to make it so that most people, it would be something they could afford without going into hardship because I want as many people to have that experience as possible. And yeah, so that’s a great place to connect with me. I also have a YouTube channel and I don’t always post about gardening there, I post about other things too, but certain times of the year I get really into the gardening and I’ll post more videos on that.

So, yes is my website. And I love to connect with people. So feel free to reach out to me and say hello. And if you have a gardening question, I’m happy to answer or question about connecting to nature.

Helen Thompson: Thank you, Rachel. I’ve really, really enjoyed talking to you and I’ve actually learnt a lot from you. You’ve inspired me to go out into the garden. So, thank you so much for being on the podcast. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you and I hope that moms will find it useful. So thank you.

Rachel Strivelli: Yes. Thank you for having me, Helen. This was so much fun.