In this article, we share the many benefits children gain from gardening, along with some clever independent plant and gardening ideas for children. Read on to learn more.
How Does Gardening Help Children Develop Physical Skills?
In the garden, kids gain mastery of a lot of physical skills. For example, carrying and using gardening tools helps develop:
- Body management skills
- Object control skills
- Whole hand grasp
- Locomotor skills
- Pincer grasp
These and many other fine and gross motor skills are necessary for success in school, sports and life. Additionally, developing the habit of spending time outdoors adds to lifelong quality of life.
In addition to the motor skill benefits of the lighter aspects of gardening, heavy work, such as:
- Carrying water
- Moving soil
- Pushing a wheelbarrow or cart
- … can actually help calm a child’s nerves.
This sort of work is believed to help children stay focused and calm in other activities.
How Does Gardening Boost The Immune System?
The physical activity of gardening also promotes physical health in ways that may surprise you.
In addition to healthy physical activity outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine, gardening also brings your child in contact with the earth.
You may have heard of the “hygiene hypothesis” which posits that lack of exposure to germs in childhood actually exacerbates susceptibility to a number of serious health conditions, such as:
- Immune system disorders
Gardeners have always waxed lyrical about the joys of getting their hands dirty. Now we know that there’s a scientific reason why! [source]
What Are The Sensory Benefits Of Gardening?
Gardening provides a wealth of sensory stimulation. The sight and scent of flowers and herbs, the taste of herbs and food crops, the warmth and texture of soil and stones, the splash of water and the sound of birdsong and much more combine to delight and revive the senses. [source]
How Does Gardening Develop Adventurous “Foodies”?
Children who participate in gardening are seldom picky eaters. Helping food grow seems to pique the appetite and the sense of adventure.
Can Gardening Boost Academic Skills?
Although it’s not something you’d automatically associate with gardening, you may be surprised to learn that when children participate in growing plants, it can boost literacy skills.
Think about it: children who garden have a need to read seed packets, make plant labels and perhaps even draw up garden plans or map out the existing garden.
When you are working on the garden together you can teach your child a wide variety of scientific concepts, such as:
- Why does the quality of the soil matter?
- How do earthworms benefit plants?
- How does photosynthesis work?
- Why do plants need water?
Learning to differentiate one plant from another and recognize the various parts of plants adds to general knowledge.
Gardening can also help kids get practical math experience. Think about the measuring necessary to set up a garden. Keeping track of plant growth by measuring on a regular basis is a solid practice.
Measuring fertilizer and other soil amendments and supplements is also a good math exercise.
How Does Gardening Encourage Critical Thinking?
Gardening also helps kids develop intellectual and cognitive skills. A good gardener must have the ability to analyze cause and effect and to remember what has been planted and what has been done.
Parents can boost the intellectual development aspects of gardening by talking with their children about what the garden chores that have been done, what still needs doing and why. Helping your children understand the reasons behind garden planning, soil preparation, fertilizing, watering at certain times and so on, helps your child develop the ability to think logically, plan and reason. [source]
How Do You Start Kids Gardening?
When you first start plant projects and gardening with your kids, remember that time for children is a bit different than time for adults.
It moves very slowly, and a week in the life of a toddler can seem very long, indeed. For this reason, the best initial plant projects for kids are those that produce quick results.
Here’s a collection of good ideas for children’s plants.
Quick Growing Seeds
You can sow seeds in potting soil, cotton or damp paper. Add just a little moisture, and your seed will sprout in just a few days.
Some of the best choices for quick growing, readily available seeds include:
Various seasoning seeds, such as chia, flax, coriander, caraway, poppyseed and others can be sprouted and grown. Wild bird seed and plain popping corn will also sprout and grow, just for fun!
If you sprout seeds between layers of a damp paper towel, you can see how the seed sends out a vegetative shoot and a root.
You can then transplant the shoot into damp soil, or if you’ve planted edible sprouts, add them to a salad, sandwich or stir-fry and enjoy!
The best seeds to use for creating edible sprouts include dried beans and peas. These are inexpensive and abundant.
You can sow them in damp fabric, cotton or paper toweling or in seed trays to grow an ample amount of sprouts to be enjoyed just a few days after starting your project.
You can also plant these seeds individually in larger containers with soil to grow full blown plants that will eventually produce fresh beans and peas to eat. Try preparing some as sprouts and some as potted plants so that you can compare their progress.
It can be fun to plant these large seeds in glass jars so that you can watch the roots and the vegetation grow.
Your child can sow a little grass, wheat or grain in a tilled area outside to play farmer. This small activity gives an idea of how farmers grow grain crops.
It also provides a nice, seedy crop to benefit your bird population.
If you do not have an outdoor area to sow grain seed, try sowing it in a small, shallow pot on a sunny windowsill.
If you have a cat, he or she may enjoy having the fresh greenery as a healthy addition to the typical dry and/or canned cat food diet.
Freshly grown grass also makes a nice treat for a pet rabbit or guinea pig.
Herbs are fast and fun to grow indoors or outdoors. You can grow herbs in pots or between rows in a larger garden.
With their interesting scents and flavors, they make rewarding crop for little ones. Gathering them and hanging them to dry is also a fun activity.
If you don’t have garden space for herbs, set up a mini-herb garden on a sunny windowsill or under artificial light in your kitchen.
Keeping a mini-herb garden indoors provides your child with the fun of planting seeds, watching them grow and then harvesting and using the resulting crop on a regular, ongoing basis.
Grow Little Trees
Horse chestnuts, acorns, pecans, avocado pits, peach, apricot and cherry pits can all be planted in pots to grow into nice little trees.
These take a while to grow, so you may want to start nuts and pits in damp paper toweling inside a closed jar so that your little one can see the start when the seed sprouts.
With avocado pits, you can use the classic starting technique of poking toothpicks into the sides of the pit and suspending it (pointy end up) on the lip of a small jar.
Related Reading: How To Sprout An Avocado Pit
Fill the jar with water so that it touches the bottom of the seed. Before you know it, roots will form and a green shoot will sprout from the top.
Your little one can enjoy watching the seed grow like this for a month or so and then transplant it into a pot of well draining potting mix.
Citrus fruit seeds will also grow when planted in a small pot of good potting soil. Oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes and tangerines all yield viable seed that can be grown into pretty little houseplants in a few months’ time.
Grow Your Own Date Palm Tree
If you purchase a package of dried dates with seeds still in, keep a few of those seeds and try planting them. Good soil, warmth and ample light are all that are needed to encourage these seeds to sprout.
Growing bushes and trees can teach patience. These projects are a bit slow and should be combined with quicker growing seed projects to hold little ones’ attention.
Plant Related Art Projects
In addition to sprouting and planting seeds and bulbs, there are a number of enjoyable plant related art projects children can pursue. Among them are:
- Creating small container gardens, such as terrariums, fairy gardens, miniature rock gardens
- Making name tags to identify which plant belongs to which child
- Making identifying tags for crops
- Making macramé pot hangers
- Painting pots and planters
- Pressing flowers
If you are planting very small seeds, you can sow them in the shape of a picture or letters on the surface of soil laid shallowly in a tray. Keep the soil moist and in a few days you’ll have a tiny, living image, word or phrase.
One of the best seeds to use in this way is cress. This is a very tiny seed that can be successfully sown on the surface of fine soil or sand, on clay, on damp paper toweling or even on the cut surface of fruits or potatoes.
Planting outdoor bulbs in the autumn can bring surprise and delight in the springtime. Plant crocuses, hyacinth, narcissus and other springtime bulbs indoors early in winter to enjoy their scent and beauty during the holidays. These bulbs can be “forced” in water for easy, beautiful results.
If you are lucky enough to have a creek, stream or pond near your home, your child may enjoy experimenting with collecting water plants to grow in a miniature water garden or an aquarium.
A DIY patio water feature with running water can provide a good habitat for natural water plants.
Exotic Plants For Older Kids
Once your child has passed the seed sprouting stage, he or she may be interested in taking on the challenge of growing an exotic plant such as an echeveria succulent, donkey tail cactus, fern, African violet, orchid or even a Venus flytrap.
This sort of project is good for pre-teens and young teens who have had some practice with gardening and indoor planting.
Caring for a more exotic plant involves learning about seasonal care cycles, starting new plants from cuttings, repotting, fertilizing and so on.
Starting off with a succulent plant is a good idea.
These plants are fairly carefree, and there are many varieties of succulents that can make a nice addition to the landscape of a model train setup, around a dollhouse or simply placed on the windowsills in an older child’s room.
Succulents are forgiving of quite a bit of neglect. They live a long while, and some of them even produce blossoms.
Cacti are also an option for older children, but because of the thorns, they are not recommended for little ones.
Gardening Is Great For Your Child’s Mind, Body And Soul
It’s easy to see that there are lots of great plant and gardening projects you can pursue with your children.
Helping your kids enjoy gardening contributes to their overall health and well-being and helps them learn to appreciate and evaluate food quality for lifelong great eating habits.
Luckily, you don’t have to have a lot of outdoor space to help your kids enjoy gardening. Use square foot gardening techniques, indoor self-watering planters, soilless sprouting and planting and other innovative methods to make the most of your small space and the light you have.
You’ll be amazed at how many edibles your child can grow in a small raised bed garden or large planter. Countertop hydroponic setups also provide a bounty of edible food with a small amount of input from your curious child.
If you do have garden space, be sure to start your child off with easy-to-grow plants that provide a lot of quick success.
Examples include zucchini, radishes, lettuce and tomatoes. If you have the room, plant some pumpkin seeds for a delightful end of season harvest.
When your child helps with food production, he or she learns the value of home-grown food and enjoys the vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient benefits fresh, wholesome produce delivers.
Eating homegrown, garden veggies contributes greatly to your child’s growth, strength, development and brain power. Furthermore, when your child participates in growing the food for your family, success brings a huge boost of self-esteem.
How Does Gardening Strengthen Family Relationships?
Working with your child in the garden provides an excellent opportunity for “quality time”. As you strive together toward the common goal of helping things grow and creating a beautiful and bountiful garden space, you are also helping family bonds grow and creating lifelong memories.
Gardening takes kids and parents away from the screen and into nature. It provides an opportunity for family members to communicate directly and build genuine connections.
When you and your child plan a garden, plant and germinate seeds and watch them grow, you have a sense of shared responsibility and purpose.
When you care for the seedlings with the right amount of water, food, pruning and care you and your child develop a sense of mindfulness.
When you engage in activities such as gathering collecting rainwater for gardening and composting basics like kitchen scraps, you teach your children the importance of using resources carefully and respecting and caring for our one and only planet.
Spending time in the outdoors engaged in honest labor in contact with the soil has long been touted as a way to ease the mind, calm the nerves and soothe the soul. Today, science is validating this long held belief. [source]