Most of us want our kids to get outside and away from phones, TV and video games (at least part of the time!), and gardening is a great way to achieve that. Recent research compiled by the National Science Teaching Association show 10 gardening benefits for kids:
1. Kids who garden score higher on science tests.
2. Gardening is full of science.
3. Kids who grow the food, eat the food.
As a teacher, I’ve taught STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and have served as a Junior Master Garden club leader. In these roles I saw the “if they grow it, they will eat it” phenomenon. Students love to dig up what they have grown, and then curiosity gets the better of them — they want to taste it.
Master Gardener Beth Tovi volunteered to mentor students in the garden for eight years at the elementary school where she served as a media specialist. She sees the nutritional and health benefits children gain from gardening.
“With the growing concerns about obesity, diabetes and even high blood pressure in children, gardening gets them physically active and outdoors,” says Tovi. “And children will eat anything they grow – even if it’s green,” she adds.
4. Digging in the dirt can make kids healthier.
Several studies show that children raised on farms don’t have as many respiratory allergies, asthma or autoimmune disorders as children who are raised in urban areas because farm kids are exposed to more microbes and fungi in the dirt. Letting children get outside and get in the dirt may actually make them healthier than keeping them tidy, clean and inside.
5. Gardening strengthens interpersonal skills.
Children who garden learn responsibility, patience, perseverance and how to deal with disappointment if the garden doesn’t grow the way they expected. Watering plants and trying to keep them healthy is an arduous task, and your kids will learn about perseverance and teamwork.
6. Gardening connects children with nature.
When children garden, they gain ownership in what they are cultivating. I have seen my own children grow “attached” to the plants in the containers on our patio garden. As children become more knowledgeable about all the living things in the garden, they are less likely to be afraid of touching plants, getting soil on their hands or being near bugs. They are no longer afraid of the unknown when they become familiar with what is in the garden.
7. Gardening helps relieve stress.
A garden can be therapeutic. Not that your fourth grader is battling traffic, raising children or feeling the demands of a pressure-ridden job, but kids feel stress, too, and the garden is good for eliminating it. In fact, a study in the Netherlands shows that after 30 minutes of gardening, subjects who had shown stress before they gardened had a “fully restored” positive mood. And if the Mom or Dad are feeling stressed, and they garden with their children, it can help the whole family feel more harmonious.
8. Gardening teaches kids to problem-solve.
“When they garden, children learn problem-solving skills,” Tovi says. “They say, ‘This tomato stick doesn’t work very well. How can we make one that will better support this kind of plant?’”
In a garden, children ask questions like, “What is eating this plant?” or, “Is this tree dying?” Once children become absorbed in solving the problems in a garden, they want to research to find the best answers. “They become sleuths, starting in the garden and heading onto their computers to help solve the issue,” Tovi says.
9. Gardening is a good workout.
Gardening involves stretching, bending, digging, lifting, pulling and raking. Gross and fine motor skills are used, and even the youngest gardener with simple tasks gets physical activity.
10. Gardening helps KIDS Care for the earth.
When children start reaping the food and flowers that come from a garden, they realize a garden’s impact on them and their impact on the garden. Once they have this tangible experience, it is much easier to teach them to care for the environment.
11. Gardening can lead to a longer life.
Studies show that adults who garden in their later years live longer. Instead of living a sedentary life, gardeners get off the couch and are active in nature. Teaching children good habits when they are young will make them more likely to follow them through life.
Sow the seeds of a garden with your child this spring and watch them reap the benefits for a lifetime.
No Yard? No Problem!
When your backyard is a concrete patio or an apartment balcony, it’s hard to imagine growing a bountiful garden. But it can be done in containers. Choose some eco-friendly containers with drainage holes in the bottom, fill them with a potting mix and then choose seeds or seedlings to plant. Another option is to grow an herb garden inside on a sunny window ledge.
A great resource for starting a container garden is The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible: How to Grow a Bounty of Food in Pots, Tubs and Other Containers by Edward C. Smith (Storey Publishing; 2011.
With a little research and tender care, you can grow flowers and vegetables that flourish.
• Pizza Garden
Grow all the herbs to add to a pizza. For an extra touch, make the garden round like a pizza.
• Fairy Garden
This garden includes both plants and miniature structures and is a great place for your child’s imagination to grow.
• Herb Garden
Herb gardens are a great way to foray into the world of gardening. They can be grown inside or outside and include plants such as basil, oregano, sage, thyme, parsley and more.
• Peter Rabbit Garden
Grow the vegetables found in Mr. McGregor’s garden: carrots, lettuce, radishes and cabbage love March’s cooler weather.
Janeen Lewis is a freelance journalist and mother of two. She loves to teach gardening to children.