In today's fast-paced, technology-driven world, children often find themselves disconnected from nature, instead turning to screens for entertainment. Nurturing a love for gardening in children can help bridge this gap and unlock a number of benefits. Gardening is not just about growing plants; it is proven to boost physical, mental, and emotional development. In this article, we explore the advantages of introducing children to the wonders of gardening.
Gardening and outdoor activities can boost mental wellbeing
Engaging in gardening activities (either as part of the school curriculum, via clubs and activities groups, or home-based) has been shown to promote social relationships, family connection, emotional and mental wellbeing, moderate stress, reduce depression and anxiety, and improve cognitive and educational outcomes in children and adolescents! With a list of benefits that long, what’s not to love? True, it’s one of the messier activities for kids, but it offers them an opportunity to connect with nature - an activity that, even in small doses, can improve self-esteem and mood. Gardening can also improve focus, patience, and perseverance as children learn to care for their plants and watch them grow.
Gardening is good for physical health, too!
According to the 2021 Childwise Monitor Report, kids are spending even more time online—up to 3.8 hours a day. Gardening offers an excellent opportunity for children to get out in the fresh air and engage in physical exercise. Digging, planting, watering, and weeding are all activities that not only require movement but can be quite physically demanding too! For green-fingered toddlers, gardening can also help to develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and overall strength while promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Gardening activities can stimulate children’s curiosity
Gardening is a treasure trove of learning experiences for children. For toddlers, getting stuck into choosing seeds, planting them, and watching them grow can help them to develop an appreciation of nature and give them an opportunity to ask questions. For slightly older kids, gardening can encourage them to get hands-on with scientific concepts, from life cycles and pollination to photosynthesis. Gardening can also be used as a way to get children practising other subjects, from measuring plant growth (maths) or writing about gardening (literacy), to using plants and flowers as part of art projects.
Caring for plants fosters a sense of responsibility
Whatever ages your children are, taking care of plants requires commitment and responsibility. Gardening provides valuable life lessons about patience, resilience, and the rewards of hard work. It also helps children to learn about cause and effect and consequences when it comes to taking care of living things (or not!). Gardening can also help kids to learn about their responsibility towards the environment - conserving resources, recycling, and composting.
A vegetable patch can help promote healthy eating
Growing fruit and vegetables can be a great way to help kids to develop understanding of where their food comes from; from selecting and planting the seed; tending to the crops; right through to preparing, cooking and (fingers crossed!) enjoy the fruit and veg they have grown. The Food Growing in Schools report (2012) highlights compelling evidence that proves food growing can help to support children to achieve, build life and employability skills, and improve their health and well-being - as well as improving eating habits. The BBC Good Food website has a great guide to growing fruit and veg with kids.
What should the focus be during each season?
There are plenty of compelling reasons to get kids involved in gardening, but, unless you’re green-fingered yourself, it can be hard to know where to start. Here are our tips for how to get out in the garden (and what to focus on!) during each season:
Gardening for kids in spring:
Planning: Encourage kids to create a simple garden plan, deciding what they want to grow and where. Let them choose colourful flowers, delicious vegetables, or even plants that attract butterflies and birds.
Preparation: Help children prepare the garden bed by removing weeds, loosening the soil, and adding compost. Teach them about the importance of soil health for healthy plant growth.
Planting: Let your children sow seeds directly into the soil or start them off on a sunny windowsill indoors. Show them how to plant each seed at the appropriate depth and spacing. They'll be thrilled to watch the first shoots emerge.
Watering: Teach kids about proper watering techniques, ensuring the soil is moist but not waterlogged. Encourage them to water their plants regularly, especially in dry spells.
Gardening for kids in summer:
Watering and weeding: Summer brings warmer weather, so make sure kids understand the importance of watering their plants regularly. Additionally, help them to take out any weeds that might be stealing water and nutrients from their plants.
Harvesting: Encourage children to pick ripe vegetables, fruits, and herbs from their garden. Teach them how to identify when it's the perfect time to pick each crop.
Pest Control: Summer is also the time when pests might want to enjoy whatever your kids have been busy growing! Show them how to identify common garden pests and insects, and encourage them to use natural methods to manage pests.
Gardening for kids during autumn:
Clearing and Cleanup: As summer ends, involve children in cleaning up the garden. Remove dead plants/flowers, gather fallen leaves, and prepare the garden for the next growing season.
Plant Bulbs: Autumn is an excellent time to teach kids about planting bulbs for spring flowers. Let them dig holes and plant bulbs like tulips, daffodils, or crocuses. They'll be rewarded with beautiful blooms in the following spring.
Gardening for kids during winter:
Indoor Gardening: The cold weather means any gardening projects are likely to be smaller-scale, indoor activities. A windowsill herb garden, indoor pot plants, or small plants like cacti or succulents can be a good place to start.
Nature Crafts: Collect fallen twigs, pine cones, and dried flowers during winter walks and use them to create nature crafts such as wreaths, bird feeders, or pressed flower art - great for natural Christmas decorations!
By cultivating green fingers, children encounter a whole host of benefits. So, let’s grab those gardening tools, get our hands dirty, and get out in the garden. And, for those that LOVE being out in nature, why not have a look at the benefits of forest school for kids.