As parents, we want our children to get outside more, to leave their phones, TV, and video games behind, breathe fresh air, and feel warm sunshine, and learn to appreciate nature and all its bounty. Gardening is a great way to achieve these goals. Studies show that, besides experiencing the outdoors, there are several other reasons to start a garden with kids. Benefits range from making kids smarter to making them healthier.
No Yard? No Problem!
Consider Creating a Container Garden
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. This book teaches even beginning gardeners how to grow organic food in small spaces. The book covers container and tool selection, caring for plants, and controlling pests without chemicals.
Grab Your Shovel!
10 Great Reasons to Get gardening
1. Students who garden score higher on science tests.
Gardening is full of science. Children learn about plant classification, weather, soil, and plant pests and disease. They are introduced to botany in a natural, hands-on way. Recent research indicates that students who had gardening experiences as part of their school curriculum did better on standardized science tests than students who were not exposed to gardening in school.
2. If they grow it, they will eat it.
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 witnessed the “if they grow it, they will eat it” phenomenon. Students love to dig up what they have grown. Then curiosity gets the better of them—and they want to taste it.
For eight years, Master Gardener Beth Tovi mentored students in the garden at the elementary school where she served as a media specialist. She witnessed the nutritional and health benefits children gained from gardening.
“With the growing concerns about obesity, diabetes, and even high blood pressure in children, gardening gets them physically active and outdoors,” Beth said. “And children will eat anything they grow—even if it’s green!”
3. Digging in the dirt can make kids healthier.
Several studies show that children who were raised on farms don’t have as many respiratory allergies, asthma, or autoimmune disorders as children who were raised in urban areas because children who live on farms 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.
4. Gardening strengthens emotional and 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. They must also collaborate with other siblings, friends, or school mates to get the garden work done. These are character-building skills that research shows children reap in the garden.
I witnessed this one year at a school garden when we had a drought. Watering the plants and trying to keep them healthy was an arduous task, and the students and I learned about perseverance and team work.
5. 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 the 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.
6. Gardening helps relieve stress for the whole family.
A garden can be therapeutic. Even kids can feel stress, and gardening is good for eliminating it. In fact, a study in the Netherlands showed that after 30 minutes of gardening, subjects who had shown stress before they gardened had a “fully restored” positive mood. And if the adults in the family are feeling stressed and garden with their children, it can help the whole family feel more harmonious.
7. Gardening teaches kids to problem-solve.
“When they garden, children learn problem-solving skills,” Beth said. “They say ‘This trellis doesn’t work very well. How can we make one that will support this 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 into the computers,” Tovi says.
8. Gardening is a good work out.
Gardening is good physical labor and often involves muscles that don’t always get a workout. Even the most seasoned gym-goer may admit to being sore the day after working in a garden. 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.
9. Gardening helps children become environmental stewards.
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.
10. 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 today and see them reap the benefits for a lifetime.
Themed Gardens to Grow with Kids
Inspire Kids With These Creative Ideas
Grow all the herbs to add to a pizza. For an extra touch, make the garden round like a pizza.
This garden includes both plants and miniature structures and is a great place for your child’s imagination to grow.
Build a garden that attracts butterflies, bees, birds, bats, and animals that will help pollinate plants. Try planting milkweed, zinnias, and snapdragons.
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 many more.
Students can grow flowers and plants that can be used to make art, or grow a garden of plants for kids to sketch.
Create a maze with hedges, grasses, or corn. In the middle of the maze, put something interesting like a sculpture, fountain, or another special garden bed.
Peter Rabbit Garden
Grow the vegetables found in Mr. McGregor’s garden. The great thing about this garden is that you can grow some of the vegetables – carrots, lettuce, radishes, and cabbage – in cool weather, so you could continue to garden into fall.
Grow tomatoes, peppers, and onions to make a delicious salsa.
Visit a nature preserve to discover the native wildflower plants in your area. Then build a garden with those flowers.
Three Sister’s Garden
Teach children about plants that grow well together, like corn, beans, and squash by cultivating the three in one mound.
Janeen Lewis is a freelance journalist and mother of two. She loves to teach gardening to children.