With summer (hopefully) around the corner, many people are taking advantage of the warmer weather and getting their flower and/or fruit & veggie gardens ready to take off. Even if you live in the middle of a city, you can still create a garden of sorts. Last year, I wrote the article: Go, Go Gadget Garden (check it out here) that described my version of how to set up a garden, but more importantly, how gardening played a huge role in my life since childhood. Still to this day, I love my garden and am thrilled that I have instilled a green thumb in my 2-year-old son. From a former teacher perspective and that as a current health coach, I feel children can learn and gain so much from learning how to and participating in any garden activity. Whether it’s a large backyard garden that yields baskets of fresh produce or a simple one-container window box garden, everyone can benefit from cultivating some love and living food from the soil.
Here are some specific reasons why and how children in particular can benefit from any gardening activity:
- It’s an activity to do! We all love new activities and it gets kids away from the TV, iPad, etc. When boredom strikes, there’s always work to be done to care for plants. Whether it’s weeding, watering, planting new seeds, harvesting, or tying up growing stems, I’ve yet to come by a day when something doesn’t need can’t be done in the garden.
- You have control over what the plant grows in and what goes on it, so you can cultivate true ORGANIC food that will nourish your family.
- Children learn an appreciation for healthy, fresh-picked foods.
- Gardening helps to teach kids about the environment and why it’s important to care for our land and soil = what goes into/onto it eventually goes into our food.
- Children (and adults!) are more likely to eat the fruits and vegetables they grow, so it’s a great way to help ensure (if not simply encourage) kids will eat healthy choices while cultivating.
- Gardening takes a level of responsibility. Starting as early as 1 year of age, children can be given little “jobs” that pertain to caring for a garden (i.e. watering it or picking weeds) and love seeing how their participation contributes to the growth and success of something they can harvest.
- Physical activity is encouraged when gardening, which is always a plus!
- Gardening usually requires family time if parents or an adult helps the child – this gives an opportunity to bond and spend quality time together.
- Gardening also allows for independent or alone time. I know some of the most therapeutic relaxing time for me is when I can spend a few moments by myself with my thoughts in the garden. This can also be beneficial for children or young adults who need time away from the craziness of life – and usual distractions like multimedia devices.
- Kids love watching plants grow from seeds. Teach them about the growth process and allow them to document the progress by drawing pictures, journaling, making a video, taking pictures, etc. This is a great way to integrate learning with fun – they also learn about important sequencing and cause/effect relationships.
- Gardening teaches children patience. Gardens take time to grow. There is so much instant-gratification in our world today, children and adults alike are growing way too impatient.
- Kids love getting their hands (and feet) dirty! What better way to constructively play than for children (and adults!) to dig their hands in the dirt to care for their plants?
- Gardening grounds us to the Earth – even if your garden is a small box garden. We are becoming more and more disconnected from our Earth and what it feels like to be “grounded”.
- It’s so much fun to harvest and pick the fruits and vegetables! Kids get a kick out of describing what they collected from the garden versus what would be purchased in the store.
- Sharing or giving away the produce grown is rewarding and teaches care, compassion, and sharing.
If you are interested in starting your own garden, read my former article to get some ideas and know-how. If you already have a garden, think of ways to get your children involved. Remember that even simple flower gardens can yield the same great benefits!
Here is a list of the best crops to grow for children: http://eartheasy.com/grow_gardening_children.htm
Here is a list of when to plant certain crops: http://www.thegardenhelper.com/vegtips.html
Better Health Channel offered some other great suggestions:
- Keep the garden simple so it’s not too overwhelming if you’re not an avid gardener.
- Be sure to give kids their own garden space (and it doesn’t need to be large). Even a container or pot will work.
- Involve the kids in the planning and design of the garden. They love to give their input.
- Use appropriate garden tools: light-weight, not sharp, and easy to use.
- Encourage digging in the dirt!
- Grow interesting plants that will be fun to watch grow (i.e. sunflowers, corn, strawberries, pumpkins, etc.)
- Plant flowers that attract butterflies, birds, bees, or other interesting insects.
- Make a scarecrow to place in the garden.
- Install a water feature, birdbath, or sundial.
- Set up a worm farm.
- Visit community gardens, children’s farms or botanic gardens for ideas.
- Always keep chemicals, sprays, pesticides, etc. away from children and the garden.
- Provide shade and proper hydration in the summer.
- Don’t leave unattended buckets of water around children; this can pose as a drowning risk.
- Here is a list of great sensory or textural quality-plants that will be fun for kids to investigate while growing:
- TOUCH – Wooly lamb’s ear, succulents (like aloe vera), snapdragons.
- TASTE – basil, strawberries, peas, rosemary, carrots, cherry tomatoes.
- SMELL – jasmine, sweet peas, lavender, mint, lemon balm.
- SOUND – corn, bamboo, grasses (these create rustling when the wind blows).
If you’re not able to grown your own garden, then try and visit a farm as often as possible so children can partake in some gardening activities!
What are some of your favorite garden stories or tips? Please share!!
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching, LLC. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods, products, and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more:http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at:firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Megan on Twitter (@MPowerNutrition) and like her on Facebook (Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching, LLC).