The Benefits of Gardening For Children

 

By: Sapna Fliedner MSN, HHC

Summer is my favorite time of year….the warm sunshine, trees in bloom, the beautiful sound of birds chirping and the fresh fruit and vegetables in abundance.  We first started our organic garden seven years while we were living in Texas to basically teach our young children (then 3 and 5), the origins of food and connectedness of the earth.  We didn’t want them growing up thinking everything came from the grocery store.  But it turned out that we truly depended on our garden for its highest health benefits of organically grown local food.  We grew tired of seeing all of our organic produce being shipped in from Mexico, California, Holland, etc.  This started out as being a great experience for our children as they got to see the “fruits of their labor.”  “This is magic!” my youngest exclaimed.

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Gardening engages children in a number of ways that include designing, planning, maintaining and harvesting.  They also learn how to cooperate in groups, share food, understand nature and write about their gardening activities. Surveys found that a majority of adult gardeners had positive memories of playing and exploring in gardens as children. They formed long-lasting and positive relationships with gardens and plant life.  These studies are summarized in a University of Colorado report available here.

 

There are huge mind-body-spiritual connections that result from children who garden.  Research conducted in 2005 by Robinson and Zajicek found that fifth grade students who participated in a year-long gardening program showed a higher level of self-understanding and a better ability to work in groups.  Studies by Hung in 2004 showed that children who had interned at community gardens had an increased level of responsibility, maturity and interpersonal skills.  It was also shown in a 1995 study by Alexander, North and Hendren that second and third grade children who worked in community gardens had positive experiences bonding with their parents.

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In addition to these social and developmental improvements, studies also showed that garden programs improve children’s nutrition.  A number of studies show that participating in gardening programs encourages children to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, and that, when given a choice, these children will often choose healthy foods over others.  Gardening also improved their performance in science class, their environmental awareness and their understanding of nature’s interconnectedness.

Why You Should Go Organic

Organic gardening is different from traditional gardening in that it does not use chemical fertilizer or pesticides.  It relies instead on animal and plant fertilizers, and natural forms of pest control.  Organic basically means working with nature in selecting the right plants for the garden and ensuring that the soil is as healthy as possible in order to sustain long-term growth.

Actually, organic farming worked just fine for the entire human race from the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago until the development of farming chemicals in the late 1800s.  There has been a major increase in organic farming in the last 50 years as the dangers of these chemicals have become more widely known.

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Here are a few of the reasons why organic is better:

–        Organically grown food is higher in nutrients and vitamins, which means that it can reduce your risk of diseases such as cancer.  It is also better for the health and development of children.

–        Food that is grown organically tastes better because of the well-balanced soil that nourished it.

–        Because it uses no chemicals, organic gardening means less toxins put into the body.  Studies have shown that pesticides appear 6 times more abundantly in the blood of children who eat inorganic food.

–        Organic gardening is kinder to the environment.  There is no runoff of chemicals into the groundwater.

–        Organic is better for the soil.  One of the main principles of gardening organically is to build healthy soil which will produce nutrient-rich foods for the long-term through composting.

–        It promotes biodiversity, which is essential for any ecosystem.  Organic gardeners use a wide variety of different seeds, rotate crops and carry out other practices that ensure this diversity.

One more benefit is that it helps out rural communities and small farms.  According to the Organic Trade Association, in 1997 about half of the country’s farm production came from only 2% of the nation’s farms.  Organic gardening helps you take a bite out of corporate agribusiness.

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How To Go Organic

Organic gardening is about restoring nature’s balance and letting it do what it does.  Traditional farming methods involve killing everything and using chemicals to get it back.  Like soda and donuts for your body, this gives the soil a quick boost but nothing that will last.  The farmer must constantly resurrect the dead soil year after year.  On the other hand, if you build healthy soil, nature will do the rest.  According to Organic Gardening.net, 90% of all gardening failures are the direct result of poor soil.

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Fertilizer

Composting is a great way to make your own fertilizer.  Lawn clippings, fruit and vegetable waste, coffee grinds and other types of waste can be mixed together to make it.  You can also buy animal or plant fertilizer at stores that sell gardening goods.  Using a great variety of fertilizers will create the richest and most balanced soil.

Pesticides

For pesticides, a gardener can use the weed or insect pest’s natural enemy.  You can stock your garden with insects such as ladybugs, praying mantises and certain species of wasps.  Some gardeners even have their own insect colonies to provide for their pesticide needs.  There are home remedies that kill or deter insects like garlic, cucumber peels (deters ants) and peppers.  Regular crop rotation is also a good way to reduce pests.

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If you want to turn your garden into an organic one, bear in mind that it takes some time.  You will have to clear out the garden and wait until all of the chemicals have disappeared before you can build the healthy soil that you need for a long-lasting organic garden. Our first year of gardening was essentially nothing. We started a two tier-compost system with all organic produce being dumped into it. By the third year, our garden thrived. We had so many fruits and vegetables….peppers, carrots, radishes, peas, apples, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, rosemary, cilantro, thyme, oregano, mint, stevia, parsley, basil, pomegranites, cucumbers and tomatoes.

These are a few pictures of our garden when we lived in Texas. There is something so beautiful and simple when you teach your children to garden.  My 4 ½ year would go into the garden and pick out all the herbs for the evening’s dinner, whilst the 30 something cashier at the grocery store has no clue what the name of the herbs are. This connectedness with the earth will stay with them their whole lives. It will ground them with the rhythms of nature and help them be in tune with something much bigger than themselves.  It is extremely calming to be grounded to the earth and to feel and smell the soil beneath your feet.  Seeing your plants come to maturity and then nourishing your family with plants they have grown, truly makes your kids more responsible and self-sufficient.

In today’s fast paced, video game, T.V. laden, indoor world, being outdoors….in the dirt…creating, growing and harvesting really changes a child’s thought process.  You grow up having a real respect for the earth, creating holistic, “organic” children. We are not a part of nature…we ARE nature….and that’s how you prevent disease!

Sources

“Benefits of Gardening for Children,” University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center fact sheet – http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/ArchitecturePlanning/discover/centers/CYE/Publications/Documents/CYE_FactSheet3_Benefits%20of%20Gardening%20for%20Children_December%202010.pdf

“Benefits of Organic Gardening,” Organic Gardening Guru website – http://www.organicgardeningguru.com/unique-benefits.html

“The Dirt on Growing Organically,” Organic Gardening Guru website – http://www.organicgardeningguru.com/

“How Difficult is Organic Gardening?” Organic Gardening.net – http://www.organic-gardening.net/how-difficult-is-organic-gardening.php

“10 Good Reasons To Go Organic,” Organic Trade Association – http://www.ota.com/organic_and_you/10reasons.html

 

 

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