Cinderblock wall garden

What: A miniature garden in a small space, at kid height, planted in cinderblocks.

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New polkadot seedlings freshly planted. I have to work water into the soil each planting because of the drying effect.

How: The cinderblocks are stacked carefully against an existing small wall by our front door, where it’s easy for kids to remember to water them and also where school water bottles get tipped out daily. I made sure block holes were lined up so there’s a good 30cm of depth (the key depth for success), and filled them with good quality potting mix. Each time we plant I usually have to top up the soil a little as well, as it settles and drains out over time.

We’ve planted them with various seedlings over the seasons – beans that climbed up strings, a spider plant that came home from daycare, herbs that became snail food. It doesn’t matter – they’re in a very easy to see place so that they can be managed and interacted with regularly. Our current incarnation is Kid 6’s adored polkadot plant, with leaves in spots of several kinds of pink and white.

It’s wise to pick plants that don’t mind a bit of dryness, because the cinderblocks pull water out of the potting mix so the soil can get quite dry over time (re-wet it thoroughly every planting and dig the water in). Also make sure it’s plants that are good in pots, as the holes in the blocks are not wide. I tend to avoid plants that attract bees because ours is right by the front door, but your mileage may vary.

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The full block wall. It’s not a large thing. The bamboo stakes are leftover from when we grew beans and peas.

Extras: This makes a space where you can do all those lovely garden-interaction things regularly – talking about flowers, scents, colours; looking at bugs and snails; watching something grow; measuring it as it grows; whatever it is you want to do. In theory you can grow your own after-school snacks, which takes a bit of planning, discussion and responsibility, but I found that in small spaces like this the results aren’t that reliable, garden beds are better for that sort of thing. It’s not impossible though. Another option is mint leaves to pick and stick in water bottles on your way out the door.

Book review: Handa’s Hen

Cover of book showing two African children and a black hen
Cover of book showing two African children and a black hen
Handa’s Hen by Eileen Browne.

This is one of many, many, MANY books that are based around counting to 10. There’s a limit to how many of such books you want to bother with, because really, it’s an incredibly boring plot device and your kids WILL work this out. However, there are some ages and stages where they like the predictability of it, or where you want to be practising their reading of numerals or number words, or where they are learning numbers as an ordered list (“seven comes after six and before eight”), or where they are learning to associate a quantity with a number, or where they are learning to recognise a small quantity visually without counting (“there’s three birds”). And we all have relatives and friends who will buy your kids something because “it’s educational”. So. You’ll have some of this kind of book around.

What makes this one any different? Well, I like it for several reasons.

  • The children are not white-skinned with red or blond hair. That’s a rarity in children’s books, where characters are either very pale people or they are animals.
  • The children are POC (People of Colour) from a non-English-derived culture.
  • The artwork is visually strong, colourful.
  • The environment in which the story takes place is a hot climate, which is important for me seeing as I’m trying to raise my kids with an understanding of the place they live in rather than the expectation that somehow everywhere they live is kind of like a second-best Europe. I find the Euro-centric dominant imagery of popular media a little disconcerting and not helpful to a peaceful future.
  • Handa and her friend explore natural surroundings through the book. I like the sense of adventure and play and belonging to nature.
  • The plot is based on a search-and-explore rather than just being a counting list, so it’s not *just* the sequence 1 to 10 that creates a narrative structure.
  • There’s a tracking reference. I love tracking myself, and one of my children is on-and-off keen about it too so having pictures of tracks automatically makes a search more interesting to us.
  • The language is nicely done – just repetitive enough to be rhythmic without being beat-heavy, not too complex, not too much text on any one page.
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“Five beautiful sunbirds,” said Akeyo. “But where’s Mondi?” said Handa.