A lot of people think gardening is something they will do when they retire and finally have time to while away in the garden. However, especially if there are young children in the family, you shouldn’t wait until your twilight years before you get out the gardening tools. Research says there are plenty of reasons you should be developing a child’s green thumb at an early age. The process of gardening will teach children many valuable life skills that will stay with them all through their life, and there is plenty of research to back up this claim.
What the Research Says
There is an increasing awareness of the social, physical, and mental benefits associated with young people who get involved with gardening early on in their lives. The University of Colorado, Boulder compiled the research results of programs that used control groups, qualitative analysis, pre- and post-measures, and controlled correlations. Third and fifth-grade students who participated in a 12-month gardening program completed a life skills survey. The results showed an increase in self-understanding, and a greater ability to work in groups. An evaluation of the Junior Master Gardener Program in Indiana and Louisiana revealed higher levels of science achievements than non-gardening students. Other gains were also achieved with young gardeners who reported a greater sense of maturity, interpersonal skills, and responsibility. Children taught gardening skills in second and fourth grade showed higher levels of respect for the environment than a control group of non-gardening students. According to another study, children who grow up gardening make healthier and more balanced food choices. Many garden programs designed to teach young children gardening also teach healthy eating, which may have something to do with the positive results.
What Skills Can Gardening Teach Young Children
Gardening is a skill that impacts each of the senses; from the various textures of fruit and vegetables, their taste, to vibrant, colored flowers and the deep, earthy smell of freshly tilled soil. Interacting with nature on so many levels feeds an insatiable curiosity in toddlers and young children, and it can create
a connection with nature that can last a lifetime. Let’s take a more in-depth look at what you can expect your kids to learn when you help them develop a garden plot of their own.
Gardening Develops Scientific Curiosity
There are many mysteries going on in the average garden bed to which your child will want answers. Expect to receive a never-ending barrage of questions, including: How do seeds turn into plants? Why does the garden need fertilizer? What are all these worms for? How do plants drink, and why do they need the sun?
Pretty soon, you will have an accomplished little scientist who understands complex topics like photosynthesis, fertilization, and the many interactions between insects and plants that all lead to food on your plate, or beautiful flowers to add color to your home.
Our post-industrial lifestyle means that most of us are far removed from the source of our food. Gardening can provide an educational aid that teaches kids where their food comes from, and how plants are vital to the survival of the planet and symbiosis of all living creatures, Your small patch of flowers and vegetables will instil a passion for learning that children will carry with them all through school and beyond.
How Gardening Affects Growing Bodies
Gardening is a regular physical activity you and your children can use to get some mild but fun exercise into your day. Exercise is great for preventing a myriad of health conditions. Research conducted at Kansas State University indicated that the physical activity from gardening was enough to keep older adults in reasonable shape, so it’s a great habit to introduce kids to at an early age. 
Lack of natural sunlight creates significant health challenges for young eyes and bodies. Children are spending too much time indoors and staring at screens. Not only are they not doing their eyes any favors, but a lack of sunlight can lead to vitamin D deficiencies. A regular session of gardening will
expose them to healthy levels of sunshine and improve the health of their eyes.
Gardening Teaches Patience
There’s no rushing a bean sprout, carrot, or potato. In the digital age of instant satisfaction, gardening can help you teach the concept of patience in your children. While they are outside away from the TV, games consoles, and other gadgets, they will learn that things that matter most in life take time. Certain aspects of gardening allow you to take shortcuts. Instead of using harsh pesticides to destroy those pesky weeds, you can take the opportunity to teach young people about how physically removing the weeds and disposing of them in the compost heap will benefit the planet as a whole. Plus, the compost heap can inspire another science lesson about the cycle of life.
Patience is a vital skill that children often struggle with and developing it early on will serve them well. Learning patience will help them understand how to remain calm in stressful situations, as well as the critical difference between delayed and immediate gratification.
Gardening and the Art of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is all about living in the moment and having a greater sense of self-awareness. While the kids are pottering about in the garden they are subjected to many sights, sounds, and smells (and tastes at harvest time) that their curious minds will delight in focusing on. Kids who are aware of what they are noticing soon realize they have the power to control their thoughts and feelings.
There is a lot of repetitive tasks in gardening, like watering, weeding, and digging. Rather than let them zone out with headphones, show them the value of focusing their senses with what’s going on in the garden, so they learn the importance of being fully in the moment.
Children Learn Responsibility from Gardening
A child who sees themselves as responsible is most likely to develop a higher level of confidence. Plus, learning to take responsibility for their actions shows kids the differences between right and wrong, and teaches critical thinking skills.
A small patch of garden or a box on a windowsill creates an excellent environment for teaching children about the benefits of commitment and doing what needs to be done every day to ensure their plants survive and thrive.
Give your children complete responsibility for a section of the garden. If you don’t have a yard, a container will serve just as well. A bountiful harvest will show them the value of responsibility.
Children Who Garden Make Healthier Food Choices
While watching the garden grow, children will be anxiously awaiting the day when they can taste the results of their hard work. As revealed in the studies above, children who actively garden in their younger years develop a greater appreciation of the value of fresh fruits and vegetables for providing their bodies with valuable nutrients.
Come harvest time, your kids will be chowing down on fresh vegetables they grew themselves. Youmay even have a hard time getting them to leave enough for dinner time.
Children Learn Fine Motor Skills When Gardening
Gardening requires a lot of locomotion skills, especially when sowing small seeds. They will also need to practice their fine motor skills when transplanting tiny sprouts, so they have room to grow. There are also tasks like weeding, raking, hoeing, and pushing plant stakes into the ground. All of these tasks will help young children develop their fine motor skills, as well as get them moving, bending, and stretching.
How to Inspire a Love of Gardening in Children
Now that you are aware of the benefits of gardening for children, you’re probably wondering how you can develop that spark of interest that will get them started? Very young children love to emulate the activities of their parents – it’s why plastic lawnmowers and Easy Bake ovens are such popular toys.
You can use this trait in your favor when you’re out gardening. Make sure your children have their own little gardening set they can use on a small patch of their own. When you turn gardening into a game, you won’t be able to stop your kids from coming out into the garden with you.
Choose a few vegetables that are easy to grow and fast-growing as well. You want to teach your kids patience but making them wait three years for their first crop of asparagus might be asking a bit much.
A few examples of fast-growing vegetables that are also delicious are radishes, corn, beans, and peas. If you’re growing flowers, try marigolds, pansies, and calendula. Herbs they can use on the homemade pizza or in the spaghetti Bolognese will also help them appreciate the satisfaction of growing their food.
Help them start a diary about their gardening adventure. Planting seeds and tracking the results of their efforts will keep them engaged with the garden and may even instill a love of the scientific process.
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