The spring is finally here! When the sun is shining, and everything is starting to bloom, we naturally feel more energy. This is a great time to do something wonderful for our children and ourselves.
Spring is the best time to start gardening. This simple activity has vast physical and emotional benefits. Additionally, it is tremendously important for our electronics-dependent children to venture outside and to connect with nature while disconnecting from the constant stream of information.
What is the best age to involve the child in gardening?
The great thing about gardening is that even young preschoolers can get very involved - they can choose the plants, dig, water, weed, harvest, and engage in food preparation.
A step-by-step guide to introducing your child to gardening
It is important to get the child interested in this little project so that it doesn't feel like a chore.
1. Browse together through pictures of vegetables and berries that grow in your area. Ask your child which plants will be the most fun to grow.
For Southern Ontario it's easy to grow:
Swiss Chard (the rainbow chard is easy to grow and looks gorgeous in the garden)
Squash (super easy to grow even from a seed)
Strawberries (colorful, easy to grow, yummy - should I say more?)
You can also plant some herbs:
Mint (but be careful as it will spread over your garden - keep it contained)
2. Help your child research the ways to care for the plants she selected. Of course, it is the easiest to ask Google. A more mindful way is to take a book from your local library and to spend a few evenings reading and discussing.
3. Plan the layout of your little garden together. Encourage your child to draw a picture and to allocate places for the plants that she has chosen.
4. Now the fun part - going together to a nursery and selecting the plants.
5. Plant according to the picture that you created.
6. Voila - enjoy your garden!
- Make it fun! I know I already said that, but this is probably the one most important part of this all. The goal is not to make the garden perfect. It is to instil the love of and connection to nature in your young child and to encourage responsibility and mindfulness.
- Start Small. This is not the time to be overly ambitious. The goal is not to mass-produce. What we are trying to do is to teach the child patience, nurturing, and mindfulness of this magical process.
- Keep it simple. Growing vegetables from seeds and seeing the little seedlings emerge is great fun, but it has its own challenges. For some plants, it's important to start planting indoors and later move the transplants into the garden.
If you are new to gardening, it is easier to just purchase transplants.
- Don't have a garden? No problem. Research the plants that can thrive on a balcony. Another option is growing herbs and plants indoors.Or look for a community garden in your area. But if you have an option to plant outdoors - this is much more fun and gets the kid out of the house for a while - even if it is to a balcony.
Emotional benefits of gardening
- Stress and anxiety reduction. That's one significant benefit. Kids often spend their whole days at school or daycare, attend extra-curricular activities, and are constantly bombarded with images from TV and other screens. They deserve a break! Spending time outside in nature is super relaxing. The connection to earth is very special. It promotes quiet focus and contentedness.
- Promoting creativity and imagination. There is a great deal of dreaming, exploration, planning, brainstorming, and problem-solving involved.
- It teaches your child responsibility. He has to remember to water the plants consistently, check on them, remove harmful bugs (this is also the best way to deal with phobias (fears) of insects), and to weed the plants regularly.
- The child will need a lot of patience to tend to the plants and to await the fruit. It is more important than ever to develop patience in this day and age of instant gratification.
- The sense of accomplishment. What a great way to boost self-esteem!
- Shy and anxious kids will have a conversation-starter when a friend comes over for a play-date.
- Parents often get stuck in trying to establish a connection with their child solely through conversations. But so often the kids' response to the question, "How was your day?" is a laconic, "Good." Engaging in an activity together facilitates effortless connection through a common interest and working together toward a common purpose. It also creates an opening for further discussions and other activities - taking pictures of the plants at various stages, creating a photo album, browsing cookbooks, cooking - the possibilities are endless.
Physical benefits of gardening
- As any gardener will tell you - gardening is a great physical exercise. All this bending, planting, pulling, digging, carrying, tilling, raking, and watering is such an enjoyable way to get your little one to exercise!
- Gardening has been shown to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. Research shows that gardeners had lower cortisol levels than people who tried to relax by reading.
- Gardening improves strength, flexibility, balance, and sensory perception.
- Spending time outdoors allows your child to breathe the fresh air and to benefit from Vitamin D, which is produced when his skin is exposed to sunlight.
- Through gardening, your child will be exposed to highly beneficial microorganisms in the soil (Mycobacterium vaccae). Amazingly, it helps stimulate serotonin production, leading to a happier and more relaxed feeling. Talk about make-you-feel-happy little microbe.
- Better nutrition. What better way to get picky eaters to have their vegetables than having them grow their veggies and participate in food preparation!
Sensory benefits of gardening
Gardening involves all the senses! Touching various textures, smelling, listening to the outdoor sounds, looking carefully while inspecting the plants, discussing the progress, and, of course, tasting the yummy outcomes of their hard work - those are all wonderful and important sensory experiences!
And one more bonus benefit: A happier mom or dad. You are also reaping all those wonderful benefits, thus, providing your precious child with a happier parent!
By teaching your child to interact and connect with the natural world, we are giving her a gift of emotional fulfilment and improved psychological and physical heath. Try it this spring!
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Anna Prudovski is a Psychologist and the Clinical Director of Turning Point Psychological Services. She has a special interest in treating anxiety disorders and OCD, as well as working with parents.
Anna lives with her husband and children in Vaughan, Ontario. When she is not treating patients, supervising clinicians, teaching CBT, and attending professional workshops, Anna enjoys practicing yoga, going on hikes with her family, traveling, studying Ayurveda, and spending time with friends. Her favorite pastime is reading.