In a world with rising levels of screen time, illness, obesity, behavior issues, and decreased family bonding, there is one activity that could be a cure for them all: Gardening.
Perhaps it is just an idealized view of what turn of the century looked like, but most families had some sort of garden. My early childhood holds vivid memories of visiting my grandparents garden, a jungle sized (at least to my small eyes) labyrinth of rows and rows of all different kinds of plants. Raspberries may have been the only ones I really cared about, but as I look back I recall marveling at the funny shape of the rhubarb plants and trying to eat corn fresh picked off the stalk. Helping Grandpa in the garden was the by far the best game to play. My Grandpa’s garden was definitely more elaborate and professional than many, as he had been raised on a farm and knew how to make literally anything grow but almost everyone can find some form of gardening that they can be successful at. While gardening may be considered more of a hobby than a productive effort in our fast past urbanized world, gardening has numerous benefits for you and your children. Here are just a few.
1. Gardening Helps Bolster Your Immune System
Face it, we live in a super hygienic sanitized world. But it was not always so. Science has shown that we need dirt in our life, especially when we are young. Gardening in soil native to your area has been shown to reduce the risk of children’s allergies as they age. This is likely because microorganisms, pollen, and other things can bother our immune system as we get older if they are something we haven’t been introduced to. Think of it as basic immunization. By letting your child dig around in the dirt in the area you live in they will be introduced to the irritants that plague us later in life. When you are younger your immune system is more adaptable and will be able to produce the antibodies needed to live as allergen symptom free.
2. Nature Calms Our Nerves
Chalk it up to the sunshine, the electrical current from the earth, or the sensory stimulation found in living plants, whatever it may be, nature soothes us. Parents of children with ADD or ADHD reported “green” activities as ones that seems to lower symptoms and help the children behave more normally. Another theory is that we live in a very disciplined world and nature allows us to switch to different processes in our brain that don’t require so much regulation and discipline. Studies are being conducted where they are finding direct correlation between time spent outdoors and success in school and self discipline. So take a break from the books and stress and head outside with your little ones.
3. Gardening Creates Interest In Healthy Habits
We are not just talking about eating more veggies here, but gardening can burn some serious calories. You can’t just sit and garden the way you can sit and read a book or watch TV. Gardening persuades you to move. Look at this plant here, pull that weed there, gather up the fruit over here. If you have young children who are picky eaters, gardening is an effortless way to get them to try new foods. Why? It is a naturally exploratory environment and young children put EVERYTHING in their mouth. Be careful, as there are some plants like tomatoes or tomatoes that have poisonous leaves, but for the most part you can let them roam free. If your children are older and they have been involved in the process of planting and caring for the young plants they will generally be more interested in tasting the fruits of their labors also. So plant a few things your family has not been successful at eating and see if gardening can work some magic in your tastebuds.
4. Gardening Creates Family Time
You can garden alone, but dragging out your spouse or children will make it much more fun, if not a little hectic. I’m not promising they are going to love weeding, but fun tasks such as planting, watering, pruning, and harvesting your garden teach principles of work and togetherness. Plus, it is pretty hard to scroll on facebook when your hands are wet and covered in dirt looking for veggies to pick and bugs to squash. I like to think of it as the low maintenance way of spending time in nature together; Almost as good as camping or hiking, but a bathroom is still a few steps away.
5. Gardening Teaches Horticultural Time
Studies are showing that not only are we as adults more stressed, but our kids are stressed too. Deadlines, expectations, to-do lists, and appointments have us constantly worried about what we should be doing next and how we are going to get it all done. Watching plants grow teaches children that somethings only happen when placed in relation to each other, and sometimes there is nothing we can do to change that. We can’t just say, ok, this seed will sprout in 2 weeks and if it doesn’t we are pulling it out! The elements of weather, rain, sunshine, and even the care we give our plants affect how quickly they grow and produce. By understanding that not all things are regulated by a clock and calendar, our children can learn to relax and accept events in their own life as natural occurrences rather than forced or expected situations. They will feel less stressed when things don’t always work out and have more flexible expectations when it comes to what we expect of ourselves.