We have been attending Little Acorns Children’s Gardening Club for just over 18 months now. It’s become quite a big part of our weekly routine. And, as again a few of you have shown an interest, I thought I’d write up a review of our experience. The sessions are booked in advance but with no subscription or tie in, and paid for on the day.
All (random) thoughts are my own, but I guess you’re probably getting used to that by now!
Little Acorns Workshops are held at Blue Diamond Garden Centres (see website below for the full list) and our local centre is approx 15 miles away. The sessions start at 10am which means every Wednesday morning (they run sessions on Fridays too) I go through a hellish couple of hours trying to get myself and 2 boys up, fed, cleaned, dressed and out of the door for around 9am…not an easy task without the use of a cattle prod!!
We are nearly always 10 mins late, or just make it by the skin of our teeth. I don’t know why, but regardless of what time we leave the house my 7 seater fun bus seems to hit a kink in the space and time continuum en route. Luckily for us, Jenny who runs the workshops is very accommodating, helpful and probably a bit sympathetic as she has two boys herself.
Here’s the official description from the website:
‘Little Acorns workshops introduces your little ones to gardening and at early age and has many benefits. As well as learning about gardening; children develop social skills and independence as they have fun together.
Within a controlled and safe environment, children are allowed to have a go at gardening activities themselves using gardening tools, giving them a sense of ownership of the plants and vegetables they are growing.
Children’s communication, social and problem solving skills are stimulated as they talk about the healthy foods they are growing.
Each week children take part in a different gardening activity. Refreshments are served, to the children and adults and we sing garden related nursery rhymes. Children take home everything they have made, sown or planted along with a fun activity sheet’
I however, found Little Acorns on Facebook as they have their own page, but originally I think I stumbled across ‘an event’.
At this point, I’d like to say that although Facebook gets a lot of bad press it has been a valuable resource for me personally, for finding places to go and things to do with the boys. I’ve always got events saved that I mark as being interested in, so that I get a little reminder closer to the date. So handy, especially when I’ve generally got a brain like a sieve!!
Anyway, up popped the event to make a ‘prehistoric garden with dinosaur’ and if you’ve read my previous post you’ll know that dinosaurs are a big hit around here. So, I decided to book on. It’s really simple to do, just phone the garden centre and give your child’s name and a contact phone number.
The workshops are held inside the garden centre itself and within a restaurant area, the tables are laid out with a selection of crayons and pens along with drawing paper to entertain the children from the off.
Jenny will usually start the sessions by explaining what it is we are doing that week, and then she gathers all the children around a table to physically show them how to do it. Depending on the season and the ‘theme’ of the workshop there might also be some interactive learning around the subject, or a craft project to do that ties in nicely.
All planting/gardening/messy aspects are done outside, but the children are provided with little aprons to keep them reasonably clean. And, in my opinion they look super cute in their ‘official’ gardening attire.
Thinking back to that first session, I didn’t really know what to expect and thought we might be ‘newbies’ in amongst a clique of regulars. Thankfully, it wasn’t like that at all and families dip in and out of the workshops depending on their own schedule. We were made to feel really welcome straight away.
Oh, to go back to the heady days of just taking one child, and being able to help them with the workshop activity without simultaneously wrestling another who’s intent on mass destruction. Your time will come James, another couple of months and I’ll be paying for two to join in, but I’ll also have a babe in arms…erm, I think I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Back to it…our prehistoric garden was a success, complete with real ‘Jurassic’ style plant, volcano and plastic dinosaur. Stanley was over the moon and went on to lovingly ‘feed’ the dinosaur at home for quite some time.
Once back indoors after the planting, refreshments are served. Cookies and juice/water for the kids and a much needed cuppa for the adults. Since our first session, Nana sometimes meets us there (one child each…winning!!) and is also given a cuppa that’s included within the session price.
After the kiddiwinks have gobbled down their cookies, it’s song time. The children are encouraged to sit in a group in front of Jenny for this part. Celebrations and achievements come first. For every 5 workshops a child completes, they get a special certificate.
If anybody has a birthday we sing and cheer. The first few songs are nursery rhymes and songs based around gardening, for example ‘Five Little Peas’ or ‘Dingle Dangle Scarecrow’. For the next few the children are given instruments such as jingle bells, maracas and castanets and encouraged to be ‘louder’ or ‘faster’ and to dance along.
Everything that you’ve made during the workshop is yours to take home at the end of the session.
So, that was it. I sought out the next workshop that I thought Stanley would enjoy and booked us on, and it’s gone from there. As time has passed Stanley has taken more of an interest in the proper ‘growing and planting’ sessions and has been less excited by the novelty ones. A sign of him growing up maybe?
Over the last couple of Summer’s we have had quite a harvest from the fruit and vegetables that Stanley has planted. Of course, some aftercare is required, (and is fully explained in the workshops) we usually plant out in Nana’s garden, or start the plants off in Nana’s greenhouse before taking them back home.
Our Favourite 5:
To be honest we’ve enjoyed every workshop that we’ve completed. We don’t religiously attend week on week, instead I prefer to pick and choose which sessions to go to based on the theme/description. And, if I’m totally honest we tend to swerve some school holiday workshops, as juggling two little ones (and a bump now too) when there are much bigger and louder children there is just too much for me!
After some discussion with Stan, these are the workshops that made our ‘faves’ list:
Oh Help, It’s A Gruffalo’s Garden.
This session involved reading the story, creating the garden complete with viola plant, gravel path, characters and a log pile house for snake. Then taking part in a Gruffalo trail, working out the clues based on the story.
Build Your Own Wormery.
OK, some of the girls might not have been quite as keen on this one, but my dirt loving boy really got involved. The container was layered with sand, soil, leaf mulch, and grit. Our worms were promptly christened Freddie & George and went on to lead a happy ‘layer mixing’ life for several weeks before being released…(into the chicken coop, I’m sorry!! But, circle of life and all that!!
Mr Grass Head.
This in essence was a really simple idea, but it was so effective!! Grass seeds were put into the toe end of a ‘pop sock’. Then the rest was filled with soil and features were made with elastic bands. Googly eyes were next, who doesn’t like googly eyes? And he was finished off with a bright red pair of pipe cleaner glasses. Over the next week or so with the help of some gentle watering he started to sprout hair. He went through two ‘haircuts’ and regrowth.
I think I’m going to try and recreate this at Halloween using the end of some orange tights, we could decorate the ‘pumpkin’ with black cut out shapes…what do you think?
Wildlife Garden In A Box.
We liked this one so much we’ve already done it twice over. The children create a garden to attract wildlife. The chosen plant is lavender to attract butterflies and they also make a ‘bug’ hotel too. Bark chippings make for shady hiding places for lots of creepy crawlies. And a handmade butterfly plant marker finishes everything off nicely.
Superb Strawberry Planter.
The novelty factor of planting in a welly boot!! We took our welly of choice (he had two pairs to choose from, it took an absolute age to decide) along to the session. The children were tasked with filling it with soil and planting a strawberry plant. Other activities were based on tasting strawberries, learning about fruit and colouring in a strawberry plant marker.
Now, this super little strawberry plant continued to fruit well into October and this year we re-potted (it had outgrown its welly, much like Stanley) and once again it’s given us 3 yields of fruit so far, and we’re into September now and it’s still going strong. Super duper strawberry!
Make A Beautiful Gift For Mothers Day.
I’m a little bit surprised that Stanley suggested this one, but obviously being able to make something nice enough to give to me as a gift was important to him. After planting a beautiful primrose, Stanley decorated the pot using scraps of pretty fabric. It really was lovely and he was very proud of his efforts. Other gifts included a ‘bouquet’ of flowers made from handprints and a scrunched tissue flower, that were gifted to Nana.
Educational & Social Benefits:
This is purely my own view and based on my own observations of Stanley & James. Since we started attending Little Acorns Stanley’s grasp of the natural world has really improved. He understands basics, like what plants need to grow and survive and also the responsibility of looking after and caring for something living. In the Summer months Stanley can be found watering plants with his own little watering can alongside Daddy. He can also recognise different fruits and vegetables both by their leaves and produce.
Hands on sensory learning such as planting, digging, spraying, holding seeds and learning textures, recognising scented plants etc, as part of play is really important for building cognitive behaviours and coordination. On Autumn walks Stanley will hunt out conkers, acorns and sycamore ‘helicopter’ seeds and be able to match them to the trees by looking at the leaves, I know for sure that this is a direct link back to one of the workshops we completed (Autumn Harvest – seeds and fruit).
The accompanying activities such as treasure hunts or trails have helped with Stanley’s confidence, and also with his writing skills. When there are answers to write down, I let Stanley write the letters he recognises and then I fill in the blanks. Being proud of what he’s made and wanting to write his name on his work, has meant that he can now write Stan without any help or prompting, and Stanley with a bit of guidance.
One thing Stanley has always struggled with has been attention span or lack thereof, and he’s a very physically active child. In recent sessions I’ve sent Stanley down to listen to Jenny’s instructions alone. He then has to actively listen, concentrate and remember what she’s said. Another move forward, as he’s now able to tell me what he needs to do in order to complete the activity.
Working in groups with other children, and taking turns with equipment such as trowels has made Stanley more socially aware and he now shares more freely at home. Each week there can be new faces, and we usually sit on different tables so we are mixing with new people all the time. Stanley has made quite a few little friends at the workshops and it’s lovely to watch them interact and play together.
Stanley obviously takes part in the activities, but I’ve also been taking James along too since he was a few weeks old. He’s been quite happy to watch and observe, laughing along when the other children do. He’s very kindly given a cookie too and then he joins in with song time. I think we’ve now hit the point though where James wants to get involved in the activities, and who can blame him?
Value for money:
The sessions are £5 per child. There is no charge for adults. And, siblings are free unless they are actively participating. For your £5 you get an hours workshop, certificates, cookies and drinks for the children, and coffee/tea for any adults attending. And, of course you get to keep whatever has been made.
I think it’s excellent value for money, I’m not sure how it could be improved in that sense. Jenny will sometimes ask for donations of empty containers, jars etc in order to keep the workshops going and we always do our very best to help out.
We love going to the workshops, and I’m hoping we will continue to attend once Stanley is at school and James has taken over the reigns of big brother duty. Although, the logistics of getting one to school and another two ready in the car for 9am will take some planning on my behalf!
Jenny runs the workshops (along with a trusty garden centre sidekick) with a huge amount of professionalism, patience, and kindness. She is an excellent communicator, especially with the children who regularly interrupt, and take over when she is trying to explain activities. She doesn’t bat an eyelid and steers the conversation back on track like a pro…mum skills on show, right there! She makes learning fun and puts a lot of thought and time into creating activities that everyone will enjoy.
If you are still with me, then thank you for reading this far…I know this one has been quite lengthy and photo heavy!! But, I really want to do Little Acorns justice.
It is a fabulous little group to attend and I highly recommend to anyone with young children!!
All images are my own unless otherwise credited and must not be reproduced without permission.