10 Reasons Why It’s Great to Garden with Kids
By Janeen Lewis
Most parents want their children to get outside away from phones, TV, and video games, and gardening is a great way to achieve this goal. However, recent research shows that there are several other reasons to start a garden with kids. Here are ten of them.
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. Recent research shows 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 Gardener club leader. In these roles I’ve witnessed the “if they grow it, they will eat it” phenomenon. Students love to dig up what they have grown, and then curiosity gets the better of them—they want to taste it.
Master Gardener Beth Tovi volunteered to mentor students in the garden for eight years at the elementary school where she served as a media specialist. She sees the nutritional and health benefits children gain from gardening.
“With the growing concerns about obesity, diabetes, and even high blood pressure in children, gardening gets them physically active and outdoors. 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. Why? 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. How do they collaborate with other siblings, friends, or schoolmates to get the garden work done? These are character-building skills that research shows children reap in the garden.
5. Gardening connects children with nature. When children garden, they gain ownership of 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.
6. Gardening helps relieve stress for the whole family. A garden can be therapeutic. Not that your fourth grader is battling traffic, raising children, and feeling the demands of a pressure-ridden job, but even kids can feel stress, and the garden 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 they 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,” Tovi says. “They say, ‘This trellis doesn’t work very well. How can we make one that will better support this kind of plant?’”
Or they may ask, “What is eating this plant?” or “Is this tree dying?”
Once children become absorbed in solving these kinds of problems, they want to do research to find the best answers.
“They become sleuths, starting in the garden and heading to the computers,” Tovi says.
8. Gardening is a good workout. Gardening is good physical labor. 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 harvesting the food and flowers, they realize a garden’s impact on them and their impact on the garden. So 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.
Janeen Lewis is a freelance journalist and mother of two. She loves to teach gardening to children.