Spending time in the garden has definite benefits for all ages but it has particularly unique benefits for children.
As I sit here on this cold February morning, I am cheered by the thought that within days it will be time to start seeds indoors and within months time to plant seeds and transplants in the ground outside.
The general rule of thumb in this area is to wait until April 15 to safely plant warm-season vegetables and flowers. Whenever you do decide to start/plant, think about passing on the love of gardening on to the next generation.
I originally wrote about children and gardening for the Observer in April of 2018. As I said then, gardening time with children can be a great occasion to pass along valuable life lessons in a low-stress environment.
Spending time in the garden has definite benefits for all ages but it has particularly unique benefits for children. It gets them outside for some vitamin D and fresh air. They can listen to the birds sing, the bees buzz, feel the breeze on their face, smell the dirt and intimately interact with nature using all their senses. Most importantly, it gives them the opportunity to be active and get their hands and feet dirty. It gets them away from their phones and video games for awhile, reduces stress, aids with brain health, and can help lower the risk for certain health complications like diabetes and obesity.
It also provides the opportunity for some important family bonding time. It can help teach them science, cause and effect, patience, responsibility and attention to detail.
Want to start a conversation about science in a stealth manner? Hit them with this question: What is the difference between dirt and soil? Most will probably not know the correct answer and you can explain that soil is a complex, living, breathing thing. Dirt is what you get on your hands and clothes when you work with the soil. You can start saving vegetable-based kitchen scrapes and compost them which can lead into a discussion concerning reduction of wastes, conservation of resources and recycling.
The Cumberland County Extension Master Gardeners have a Facebook page that posts research-based gardening information daily. Often they have articles of gardening with children. Check them out and “Like” or “Follow” the page.
In addition to actually digging in the dirt there are bedtime and rainy day activities to get kids interested in gardening, including reading. A great way to start the conversation with young and old alike is to read age-appropriate books that talk about gardening to provide reasons to get outside and into the garden when the rain stops. Another excellent idea is to use age-appropriate coloring books as a stimulus. I did a quick Google search which produced over 10 pages of links for all ages, preschoolers to adults.
Here are a few of the excellent books I found: For the 3-to-8-year-old, there is the “Mighty Girl” series. Other books include; “Ready, Set, Grow!” By Rebecca Spohn, “Two Old Potatoes and Me,” by John Coy and “Flower Garden.” by Eve Bunting and Kathryn Hewitt.
For tweens and teens, NPR recommends in the top 10 of its’”100 Must Reads”, two of the “Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder with “Little House in the Big Woods” being the overall No. 1 (“Little House on the Prairie” was No. 6).
The Cumberland Library system has the Little House series plus “Young Gardener,” by Stefan & Beverley Buczacki, special photography by Anthea Sieveking; “Kids’ Container Gardening: Year-Round Projects for Inside and Out,” by Cindy Krezel, photography by Bruce Curtis; “Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children,” by Sharon Lovejoy; “How Does My Garden Grow?” by Gerda Muller (translated by Polly Lawson) and “Touch A Butterfly: Wildlife Gardening With Kids,” by April Sayre.
In their PBS special, pediatrician Nimali Fernando and feeding therapist Melanie Potock state, “There is a myriad of scientific concepts you can discuss with your kids when planting and tending to a garden… So getting dirty while gardening may actually strengthen a child’s immunity and overall health.”
They go on to say, “Furthermore, studies show that when children have contact with soil during activities like digging and planting, they have improved moods, better learning experiences and decreased anxiety. Most important, the self-esteem a child gets from eating a perfect cucumber that he grew himself is priceless.”
So very well said, so get your kids excited about digging in the dirt this year!
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