Gardening Helps Children Grow (and Gets Them Outdoors)


Nurturing a plant helps children learn to nurture themselves while teaching responsibility through plant care and building self-esteem through accomplishment. Many parents find gardening an excellent way to spend quality time with their children, teach lessons such as environmental awareness and the workings of nature, and have good old-fashioned family fun outdoors in the spring summer and fall.

Michelle Obama plants alongside fifth graders in White House garden.

Take the opportunity to get your child interested in gardening by letting them help you or another adult tend to existing plantings. Later, give them a small spot of their own where they can help plan and create a small garden. Help them decide if they will plant flowers, vegetables or both.

Selecting a Sunny Spot is Important

Plants need sun and circulating air to grow the best. Sunshine will give you the nutritious vegetables and colorful flowers you desire. Because sunlight is so important, you need to find out how much sun the spot you have picked gets during the day. A spot facing south is best. Take this opportunity to teach your child that this is called ‘exposure’ and how to track the sunlight throughout the day by following the sun from east to west.

Small Spots Can Work

Give them a small spot in a prime location will allow them more certain opportunity for success. They can also show off their accomplishments to others easily and be encouraged to keep up their new skills.

Assistant Koss helps children weigh their harvest of lettuce.

Children who have special needs or urban children who have very little yard space to work with can access outdoor gardening. Consider what new, repurposed or recycled containers filled with vibrant flowers, edible vegetables, or exotic plants can do for entrances, windows, or a corner of the community. Consider getting others families in the neighborhood to participate in creating a neighborhood garden where the children can work together to help beautify a dreary vacant lot or an older persons home (with permission first, of course).

Even the smallest outdoor nook can sport a thriving crop of vegetables, herbs, and flowers in containers. With some creative thinking and recycled materials from baskets to old shoes, children can plant special theme gardens, entice butterflies and other insect visitors, or create products such as hanging fragrance gardens or July 4th themed baskets to sell themselves or for an active local charity to sell. Perhaps lovely creations could be donated to a local hospital, homeless shelter or senior care facility.

Children’s Gardening Tools

Children can be taught how to use and care for trowels, spades, rakes, hoes, blunt weeding tools, small wheelbarrows, and baskets for weeding and harvesting. Keep in mind if you only have adult sized tools that children do not strain themselves when using them since they are bigger and heavier then child-sized tool.

Michelle Obama gloves up to work along side elementary school garden helpers

Child-sized tools are available through mail order catalogs or many garden centers. You may want to buy gardening tools at any time for gift giving during the December holiday season or for a birthday or other personal celebration. This helps to reinforce the idea that caring for the earth is a year round activity.

Autumn Gardening

Autumn is a good time to plant little gardens that will be ready for more lessons and fun in the spring and summer. Raking leaves into piles can be satisfying for a child.  Afterwards use this opportunity to introduce composting and recycling activities.

Autumn is the season to plant trees, turf grasses, and spring-blooming flower bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses. Children will have fun with “naturalizing,” bulbs to achieve a natural look. It is easy and fun to do. They just grab a handful of bulbs, toss them out on the target area, and plant them where they fall.

Although a full-scale lawn renovation is probably not a job for children they can help roll out new sod or rake leaves the old fashioned way- by using a rake to pull leaves into piles they can then play in. After play time you can help them add the leaves to your compost pile.

Reseeding small areas of a lawn can be fun for children and their participation in the process might help to convince them to stay off newly seeded areas giving the new grass a chance to grow.

Springtime Gardening

Spring is the time to involve your children in planning and planting the flower and vegetable garden for summer splendor and autumn gleaning. March is the time to plant seeds of summer vegetables and annual herbs inside that you want to transplant outside in late May. Keep in mind that it takes six to eight weeks to grow a good transplant, so this can also be a lesson in patience for your child. This waiting period gives you both the time to plan where the transplants will go into the garden.

Inviting Butterflies into Your Yard

Let It Bee ...and let there be Butterflies!

When it comes to inspiring youngsters to get involved and sparking curiosity in them, you cannot beat butterflies.

Creating a butterfly garden can be as simple a project as a few containers of caterpillar-nourishing plants on the windowsill. Find out from a field guide which butterflies are likely to be in your area. Pick a spot that receives 5-6 hours of bright sunlight but is sheltered from wind. Place a few palm sized stones around where the butterflies can alight near a cup of water. These comfy additions to your butterfly garden will give children a chance to observe them while the butterflies rest and refresh themselves.

Many types of plants attract butterflies. The Butterfly Website.com offers a information cataloging butterfly specie with best cocoon hosting plants and butterfly nectar source. These nectar source blooms are likely to attract other beneficial insects and even birds, providing prime observation opportunities for children and a haven for many creatures.

It’s All About Sun and Fun

Remember that the pure fun of digging in the dirt is the real key to instilling an interest in gardening in children. Spending constructive time outdoors with your children can be a mixed blessing of fun and learning for life. Plus, couldn’t you use a little happy help with your gardening chores anyway?

For more ideas about how to spend more time with your children outside please visit Lynn Johnson Hasselberger’s blog at http://blog.icountformyearth.com/2009/06/03/whats-keeping-kids-from-playing-outdoors.aspx

Check out this stories slideshow at Examiner.com

References:
www.ahs.org/youth_gardening/national_youth_garden_symposium.htm

www.mygardenblogs.com/NWblog/?p=114
www.indiaparenting.com/intelligentchild/data/117.shtml
http://butterflywebsite.com/butterflygardening.cfm

Gardening Helps Children and Gets Them Outdoors© 2009
By Cathleen V. Carr for Natural Medicine Ink, All rights Reserved

Author Cathleen V. Carr writes to promote lifestyle, products and services related to green, environmental and natural health care and holistic living.  She is a fifth generation practitioner of metaphysical arts and sciences, an Ordained Minister, licensed attorney and holds a Masters Degree in Metaphysics and is a Doctoral Candidate in Metaphysical Science in Bio-Energetic Medicine. She is the Editor of Natural Medicine Ink and the Best Natural Health Directory.com and writes regularly for this and many other blogs and websites.

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