Growing Healthy Kids


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"When kids garden, kids grow" is one of the themes of this year's National Garden Month. Kids and gardening make a natural combination that has yielded positive results for generations. Whenever you ask an adult gardener how they got started gardening, invariably it was thanks to a caring relative or neighbor who helped them when they were young. Gardening is a way to connect with family and pass along a legacy.

During National Garden Month 2007, NGA is encouraging every adult gardener to become a garden mentor for a young soul and help them experience the joys of gardening. Read on to learn about the benefits gardening holds for kids, and then try a few of our suggestions for engaging your own kids, a young neighbor, or students at your local school.

Health Benefits

Kids who garden enjoy the physical activity in the outdoors, and become more interested in eating the nutritious, fresh fruits and vegetables they grow. So much of a child's day revolves around school, where opportunities for physical exercise are becoming more rare. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only about eight percent of elementary schools and six percent of middle/junior high schools provide daily physical education for their students. Outside of school nearly 23 percent of school age children ages nine to 13 don't do any activity at all during their free time!

Gardening can be the solution. The simple act of digging a hole, raking soil, pulling giant weeds, and hauling buckets of water works various muscle groups in the body. Researchers in England found that, with proper guidance, 30 minutes of gardening burned more calories than a 30-minute aerobics class. Plus, gardeners get the benefit of the fresh air and fun.

Gardens are also an idea setting for teaching about healthy eating. Stories abound about children who typically turn up their noses at vegetables eagerly tasting fresh kale and radishes when they grow the crops themselves. Having a child experience the taste of freshly picked peas, beans, and tomatoes creates memories that last a lifetime. It also helps them make healthier snack choices.

Behavioral Benefits

Something almost magical happens when children have access to gardens. Educators everywhere report that kids' self-esteem and social skills improve. Children who embrace plants often learns to embrace themselves as well. They work better in teams, develop a sense of responsibility, and become proud of their accomplishments. This kind of growth spills over into other areas: students who have trouble with academics find practical applications in the garden for what they learn in class. It even reduces absenteeism!

Gardens also give kids a safe natural setting where they can simply be, unencumbered by teachers, schedules, or chores. In Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, author Richard Louv explains that as fewer children have access to natural places, they are forgetting how to play and use their imaginations, and have little or no appreciation for nature…or worse, they fear it. To develop fully a child needs time and a natural place to explore, build things, dig, run, jump, and climb. Children who do so are less likely to suffer from ADHD, and those who do suffer the condition find their symptoms relieved.


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Getting Started

Kids have so much competing for their attention: television, computers, sports, and a zillion planned activities, so gardening has to stand on its own. Just remember, especially when children are very young, it's all about having fun.

If you want your child to love gardening, the best things you can do is show them how much you love it just by reveling in your own garden every day. Surround them with great gardens. That doesn't mean a show place. It may mean a messy, riotously colored cottage garden; decorative little getaway; or profuse pots. Also, give them good gardening experiences. These will be great memories in years to come.

Here are some quick tips for gardening with children.

  • Start small and let kids choose what to plant. Offer guidance and make sure there are some sure-success plants among their picks.
  • Relax your standards. Crooked rows and a few weeds are fine.
  • Transplanting is fun, even if your child plays with plants the way they move their toys around. Just remind them that plant's roots need some time to grow in one place.
  • Leave room for good old-fashioned digging. Holes are a highly popular landscape feature. Look for worms. Add water, and frogs appear.
  • Let kids express themselves by coloring signs and decorating the garden in their own personal way. Action figures in the garden are okay.
  • Do behind-the-scenes maintenance of kids' gardens, keeping them edged and weeded. Don't expect kids to do all the watering and pest patrol.
  • You decide: when it comes to impending doom (no pumpkins appeared on vines; the daisy is uprooted and sunning on the deck) do you add a pumpkin from the farm stand? Replace the daisy? Some parents use loss as a lesson; others smooth things over for success.
  • Include a fun structure - perhaps a sunflower house or bean tepee - to provide a seasonal hideout and playhouse.
  • Remember: One of the best things you ever grow may be a gardener.

To learn more about gardening with kids, visit our Web site (www.kidsgardening.org).

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