"Why Try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden." ~Robert Brault
The Benefits are Many, the Lessons Uncountable...
There are so many reasons to spend time gardening with your children. These range from physical, to mental, to spiritual. Children (and the adults who work with them) get physical exercise, fresh air and sunlight, an education about where food comes from, to use math skills, and learn many life lessons about patience, hope, and the cycle of life.
Countless lessons can be learned while working a garden. Children can learn what food looks like before it reaches their plate and what exactly goes into growing, picking, transporting, storing, preparing to eat, and even composting the waste back into the garden to start the cycle again. They can exercise their math skills when planning the garden - how far apart to plant seeds, how many plants are needed to feed a group, how often to water or perform other tasks. Children can perform scientific experiments by seeing which plants work well together, changing the amount of water different plants receive, or planting the same flower in shade or sun to see what kind of results they can get.
By having their very own garden, row, or plants children become invested in the activity even more. They learn personal responsibility, because those plants are depending on the child. Kids can learn to use and care for the tools they use in the garden - if they have their own mini-versions, or if they share with an adult. They become more aware of their surroundings when taught safety lessons regarding edible plants and tool safety and to look where they are stepping.
"You have the chance to plant a seed of something very special in the hearts, minds, and spirits of your children as you garden together." ~Cathy James
Believe in Your Children and They Will Believe in Themselves
The lesson learn go beyond the things that will help them in the classroom. If you grow an extra row, or work in a community garden, you can share the product of your mutual labor with others. This teachers caring and generosity to others. It does not take a lot of extra effort to raise a few more plants when you are working in the garden anyway. Alternatively, some extra plants or veggies could become a source of income if brought to a local farmer's market. The children can learn many lessons in economics and budgeting. Kids can learn about art and design by building pizza gardens or rainbow gardens, or even a personal hideaway surrounding by yummy peas or cheerful sunflowers.
Lessons on patience, hope, and planning for the future are inherent when working with a garden. No plant grows completely overnight; some grow faster than others; some seeds don't make it. When planning a garden, children will not only need to think about what they will want to see or eat in the future, but also plan for how many plants they will get out of all of the seeds they start. We have all known little disappointments and many joys in the garden. Dealing with these concepts at a young age will help them be more well-equipped emotionally as adults. Personal responsibility equals personal growth.
"Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives." ~Thomas Berry
A Little Dirt Never Hurt
Children who are exposed to microorganisms in soil have a stronger immune system. Northern Illinois University states "It’s no surprise that many children that are raised on, or around, a farm are generally healthier than those that aren’t. This is because on a regular basis these children are exposed to dirt, animals, pests, bacteria and everything else that send modern-day parents running. While we like to think that dirt, animals, pests and bacteria do more harm than good it’s actually the opposite. When your children come into contact with these things in a natural way (outside) and on a regular basis, they are less likely to develop autoimmune disorders and allergies." Physical activity while working and playing in the garden means kids are not only getting necessary exercise, but also exposure to these helpful immunity-builders.
In a garden, children also get to exercise their imagination, problem-solving skills, and that wonderful vitamin D. (I know when I don't get enough vitamin D through sunshine in the winter, I feel cranky and sad, so I eat extra mushrooms to help me feel better.) Children can also learn healthy eating habits, as they often become more excited about eating the vegetables they grew.
Gardening can be lots of fun! Water the kids when you water plants, run "weed relays" to take unwanted plants from garden to disposal area, make charts to see whose plant grows the fastest, have a "show" where the children exhibit their prized flowers or produce to friends and family, add a touch of whimsy by building a fairy house or special play areas in the garden for days when you are waiting for things to happen in the patch. A sensory garden is a fun, interactive garden where children are encouraged to touch, smell or taste certain plants.
KidsGardening.org Has Made a Difference
One site, KidsGardening.org has made a serious impact through giving grants and providing resources to schools who want to have gardening programs. To the right is an infographic showing some of the results of their work with school children.
Starting a Garden Together Helps Family Bonds Grow Stronger
Remember that when you garden with your child, you receive all of the healthy benefits as well. You get fresh air and sunlight, exposure to immunity-building microbes, physical exercise, experience the joys and sense of accomplishment, stimulate all of your senses, learn and have fun. You also get to experience all of this with your child, strengthening your emotional bond by joining in a shared hobby. There is no greater gift you can give a child than spending time with them.
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