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Gardening provides the perfect opportunity to engage children of all ages with an activity with significant physical and mental impacts. 

Kids are naturally drawn to digging in the dirt. So getting them involved in gardening is an easy task that will most likely be met with much enthusiasm. With spring here and summer around the corner, it’s the perfect time to get your hands dirty.

Gardening can look like many things, from one pot on your apartment patio or windowsill to numerous raised beds in your backyard. The goal of gardening with children should be centered around the process, not the outcome or yield, so there should be no shame in how families define their garden. Beginner flower or vegetable gardeners should start with something manageable for their time, space and budget. 

Toni Reale | File Photo

5 Reasons to Garden with Children

Connecting to the Earth. There’s nothing like sticking your hands into the soil to connect to the Earth and the basis of life as we know it. Talk to your child about what soil is and why it’s a valuable resource. Talk about the life cycle of plants or how everything they ate today is ultimately connected to the soil. Get as complex as you want to, depending on their age. Encourage them to ask questions, and if you don’t know, look up the answer together. This shows that you value their curiosity and that you’re never too old to learn something new. 

Engaging in togetherness. Time spent in the garden, checking on plants and caring for them is time well spent. In this day and age, quality time is hard to come by. Make it a point to include them in all gardening activities and maintenance. I can tell you as a mom of two, that while it is much easier and faster to water the plants myself, it’s the process that is important. Children’s self-esteem deepens as they see how you value their assistance in the garden.

Developing life skills. Knowing how to grow your own food is a life skill, but realistically your child will not have to rely on your backyard or patio garden for survival. More importantly, there will be many opportunities to practice life skills such as developing the ability to focus, paying attention to detail, and being consistent. TikTok and YouTube videos seem to have rewired our brains to digest information in soundbites lasting from 6 seconds to 4 minutes.

But, gardening, no matter how large or small your garden is, encourages children to slow down, be mindful and focus on what they are doing. Otherwise, they might overwater or miss a really cool caterpillar or butterfly. Attention to detail through caretaking and monitoring growth will come naturally. Children love routine and will begin to value consistency and ‘showing up’ for their garden, especially after a few times of neglect and seeing their plants deteriorate.

Getting more physical. Being outside or with nature in any capacity has a way of decreasing stress and increasing well-being. Using your hands to dig up weeds, wrangle the hose or snip fresh herbs is satisfying and works a child’s fine and gross motor skills.

Gardening is the type of physical activity in which you don’t realize how hard you’ve worked until you’re finished. To a child, it’s a form of play and less work, but of course it’s how the adult approaches it. Children often act as mirrors to our own behavior, so be mindful of approaching gardening as joyful work. Otherwise, you risk turning them off of this enriching activity. 

Getting real-life math and science lessons. There are endless ways to fold in science and math lessons, no matter the age of a child. While the complexity can vary, try counting seeds of any kind, planting them and seeing how many sprout. Make a chart (simple count, pie chart or bar graph) that shows the number of seeds planted versus successfully sprouted.

Talk about what factors they think influenced the different outcomes. Have them keep a journal that includes the date, weather, care given, measured growth and a drawing to track progress. Get some large seeds, such as beans, and soak them, dissect them and talk about the different parts of a seed. Find a flower and let them gently open it to see the different parts. Life is one big experiment and approaching your garden as such will unleash your child’s curiosity, connection to and appreciation for life. 

Toni Reale is the owner of Roadside Blooms, a unique flower and plant shop in Park Circle in North Charleston. It specializes in weddings, events and everyday deliveries using nearly 100 percent American- and locally grown blooms. Online at 4610 Spruill Ave., Suite 102, North Charleston.

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