I have a 7-year-old and part of the reason for getting an allotment for me was to help my daughter to understand a bit more about where her food comes from. She is pretty picky when it comes to food, and apart from getting her to try new things, I wanted her to appreciate the hard work that goes into growing food.
That all sounds quite dry and boring to a 7-year-old though. What she wants to do is have a bit of a dig, mess around and do some cool stuff, so how do I keep her interested?
Firstly I gave her a little patch of her own, my allotment was divided into raised beds already and a small 1m x 1m space was perfect for her. Sadly it is pretty shaded, so she didn't have a lot of veggie success as the plants didn't thrive well enough to withstand slug attack, but her nasturtiums and mini sunflowers worked well enough to keep her interested. Stick to quick to germinate and low maintenance plants to keep interest going - asparagus may be their favourite vegetable, but no child can wait 2 years for success!
This year we are learning from our mistakes and growing things to a bigger stage at home before planting them out, giving them a bit more slug protection and sticking to shade tolerant plants for the mini plot.
We suffered from bird attack last year too, so this year one of her tasks was to make a scarecrow. A few old clothes and some canes made Rob (?) a scary thing to behold for any pigeon. When they eventually get used to him she will be responsible for re-siting him and giving him makeovers throughout the summer.
It turns out she has quite a mean streak when it comes to slugs (I think this was fuelled by their shared love of strawberries) so in the summer she took great delight in emptying and refilling beer traps (which was great because I couldn't stand the smell) and mercilessly smashing snails she found with her "snail basher" rock (sorry snails, that was not my idea)
Having a list of things for her to do when she get's down there is a good idea as unstructured hanging out soon loses its appeal. I never expect her to stick at any job for more than 10 minutes at the moment, so the more small things I can have up my sleeve the better.
She is pretty good at weeding out small weeds. and picking couch grass roots out of turned soil once she has been shown which are which, and so far touch wood she hasn't dug up anything precious. She also loves a bit of independence so going to fill watering cans by herself, or getting a bucket of woodchip for the paths is always helpful. We have guinea pigs at home who love eating dandelion leaves and couch grass (yes, there is a use for that stuff!!) so she always harvests a bit of that too.
If I had a bigger plot I would definitely get some kind of swing set on it, as there is always a time when I am happily digging away and her interest has faded somewhat. Our neighbours have one, and have kindly said she can use it if they aren't there. She also loves reading so I do take a book for her to read if I have a bigger job to do. I'm sure she would be happy with an Ipad too but that just seem's wrong somehow (but I'm definitely not judging there!)
If you have smaller children you might have a little way to go before you can leave your child to get on with a job by themselves, a dig patch might be a good solution, letting them dig and water away to their heart's content. Get some small tools and a watering can they can carry easily and make sure they know what is off limits to minimise damage! A mud kitchen can be easily achieved with a few old pots and pans from a charity shop. Just be prepared for extra laundry. Making sure there are two of you on the allotment so one can oversee tiny hands and one can do the real work will be the only solution to start with, but hopefully, it won't be long before the green fingers come in and you can leave them to it a bit more.
All this said, some kids just aren't that way inclined, and if your child won't happily play on the allotment and taking them down there isn't very relaxing, it doesn't mean they can't be involved. Get them to start some seeds on their bedroom window, and encourage them into watering and looking after them. You can keep popping down with them and see if it get's easier (and in the meantime, use the allotment for your own me time!)
Older children may be harder to drag off their devices long enough to fill a watering can, but with the stresses of their busy lives, an hour in the fresh peaceful air of the allotment could help to ease exam stress and friendship worries. If you can get them involved early enough, the benefits of the allotment life might just stick with them through this tricky time. If not there's always bribery... an hour's WIFI for an hour's digging perhaps?
My not so little girl was very inspired by the Summer Show last year and is determined to have something to enter this year. I have told her that she will have to come down after school in the summer to make sure everything has enough water and is protected and she seems up for the job. A bit of healthy competition isn't a bad thing, and certainly not something she will get from school, as winning and losing has been all but abolished. Learning that hard work pays off ( and sometimes goes unrecognised despite your best efforts) is a life lesson I think all kids should have. Perhaps the allotment isn't a bad place to start.