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Playing in the Dirt

Gardening with Kids isn’t Just Fun – It’s Healthy, too

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By Kimberly Blaker

There’s no question, playing in the dirt tops the list of fun for kids, particularly young children, despite the protests of many well-intended parents. If you are one of those worried parents, you can put your fears aside. 

As it turns out, dirt is beneficial to kids’ long-term health, according to a Northwestern University article by Clare Milliken, “Germs at four, less inflammation at forty.” Studies have found that early exposure to certain germs, like those found in dirt, actually helps kids’ immune systems learn to regulate inflammation better. In turn, this exposure reduces kids’ risk for many diseases throughout their lives.

For that reason, a family garden is a perfect opportunity to build your kids’ immune systems. Better still, gardening offers lots of other benefits to kids and families.

Through gardening, kids learn to be responsible by caring for their own plants. It’s also a great way to help kids learn about and develop an appreciation for science. Another health benefit is that gardening encourages healthier eating. Not to mention, it’s an excellent activity for family bonding.

So, gather up your kiddos and gardening supplies, head outdoors, and get ready for some dirt-filled fun.

Getting Started

First, decide where to plant your garden. Then allow a small space for your child to have their own garden, too. This will help build your child’s enthusiasm for the garden and encourage them to take ownership and responsibility for it. Having their own garden can be exciting and rewarding for kids because they know that they, alone (or with minimal help), grew those little seeds into marvelous plants.

Next, decide what to plant. For young children, consider fast-growing plants they are familiar with. Little kids also love plants that are colorful or have strong scents.

If your kids are older, let them choose what they want to grow. But keep in mind your child’s personality. If he tends to be impatient, suggest plants that are easy to care for and grow quickly.

As you plan and prepare, include your child as much as possible. Remember, this stage is as much fun for kids as it is for parents and helps build their enthusiasm. Also, let them help you draw up the garden plan. If they’re old enough, they can also create their shopping list.  

When you shop for supplies, take your kids along and let them pick out their own seeds and gardening tools. For the safety of young children, look for kids’ gardening tools made of durable plastic.

Planting Your Garden

When you begin planting, show your child how to plant the seeds and how to space them apart correctly. Then have your child water as directed.  

Put a daily gardening task list on the refrigerator to help your child take responsibility for their garden.

Also, suggest keeping a garden log to help your child maintain enthusiasm. Kids can have fun recording the date of plantings, each day’s gardening activities, when each plant sprouts, the amount of growth of the plants, and the harvesting.

Finally, after harvesting, have your child help you prepare the vegetables. Try different ways of preparing or cooking them to help your kid develop a life-long love for fresh, healthy veggies. 

Books on Gardening with Kids

Consider an age-appropriate book to get your family’s gardening project off on the right foot.

The Little Gardener

The Little Gardener
by Jan Gerardi (ages 3-4)

Up Down

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner
(ages 5-8)

Roots Shoots

Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots:
Gardening Together with Children

by Sharon Lovejoy
(ages 4-10)

Gardening Lab

Gardening Lab for Kids: 52 Fun
Experiments to Learn, Grow,
Harvest, Make, Play, and Enjoy Your Garden
by Renata Brown
(ages 8-12)

 The Book of Gardening Projects
for Kids: 101 Ways to Get Kids
Outside, Dirty, and Having Fun

by Whitney Cohen
(for parents)

 

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