by Claudio Wingo, M.P.H., PGDipTropMed, B.S.N., RN, DMH, MNHAA, CN
Now that school is out and summer is upon us, many parents are looking for activities to occupy their children in a constructive and meaningful way. Look no further than your backyard, balcony or local plot of land. A backyard garden can become an opportunity for your own children and others in the neighborhood to get their hands in the dirt, and learn about the life cycle of plants, how to grow herbs, flowers and vegetables, the importance of pollinators and soil aerators (worms!) and medicinal uses of plants. Let the young gardeners help pick out seeds for the plants they like to grow and give them their own ‘patch of land’ to cultivate. Purchase some ‘kid size’ garden tools and let them decorate them with paint, colored tape or stickers. Pick plants that are easy to grow, sprout quickly and have distinctive tastes such as mint, oregano, thyme, basil, marigolds, pansies, lettuce, beans, cherry tomatoes, lettuce and other greens. Include fun activities such as planting a butterfly or hummingbird garden or building a bean or sweet potato vine tepee.
Research has shown (Huys, De Cocker, De Craemer, Roesbeke et al, 2017) that children are more willing to eat vegetables they have had a role in growing and have a much better understanding and appreciation of where produce comes from after cultivating their own gardens. It also expanded their preferences on vegetables and fruit and made them more open to trying foods they had never eaten before. According to garden educators working with KidsGardening (KidsGardening.org), a Vermont based organization that provides workshops and curriculum on horticulture, children introduced to ‘garden therapy’ had improved nutritional attitudes (70%), had an increase in community spirit (82%), saw increased sense of environmental stewardship (91%) and had increased social skills (80%). A literature review by Vanaken & Danckaerts (2018) “suggests a beneficial association between green space exposure and children’s emotional and behavioral difficulties, particularly with hyperactivity and inattention problems”. Considering that children spending the average of six hours on their computers and phones and diet-related morbidity is on the rise, particularly in children, getting your kids excited about spending time outside in the garden could be considered a life changing activity. So what are you waiting for? Get outside with your kids and start digging! Consider it a wellness activity for the whole family.
You’ll find a number of websites below that are specific to gardening with children with many innovative ideas.
- Berezowitz, CK, Bontrager Yoder AB, Scholler, DA. (2015). School Gardens Enhance Academic Performance and Dietary Outcomes in Children. J Sch Health. Aug;85(8):508-18. doi: 10.1111/josh.12278. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26149306
- Huys, N., De Cocker, K., De Craemer, M., Roesbeke, M., Cardon, G., & De Lepeleere, S. (2017). School Gardens: A Qualitative Study on Implementation Practices. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(12), 1454. doi:10.3390/ ijerph14121454 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5750873/
- McEachan, RRC, Yang TC, Roberts H, Pickett KE, Arseneau-Powell D, Gidlow CJ, Wright J, Nieuwenhuijsen M. (2018). Availability, use of, and satisfaction with green space, and children’s mental wellbeing at age 4 years in a multicultural area. Lancet Planet Health. Jun;2(6):e244-e254. doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(18)30119-0
- Vanaken, G. J., & Danckaerts, M. (2018). Impact of Green Space Exposure on Children’s and Adolescents’ Mental Health: A Systematic Review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(12), 2668. doi:10.3390/ijerph15122668