Gardening can be a fun activity for all of the family to enjoy. As well as it being something different for the children to experience, it can also be extremely beneficial for their wellbeing and education. Together with Suttons, an online retailer and gardening expert, I am going to take a look at the benefits of gardening for children and ways to encourage their participation. I’ve seen how Jack is when he is in the garden and it really boosts him, both physically and mentally whilst he also learns more.
Benefits of children gardening
There are plenty of benefits of children spending time in the garden — both from an educational and health perspective. But do you know what they are?
Would you believe that there is a worrying statistic that three-quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates? How mad is that? Children are becoming more interested in tablets and smartphones (I can’t lie, Jack would sit in all day on the tablet if he could) and tend to spend more time in the house. Gardening is a great way to get them involved with something different outside.
For younger children, messy play helps to enhance their sensory development. This could involve letting them play with the mud, splash in some puddles and get their hands dirty – Jack used to love doing this and I can’t wait to take Olivia out to do this! It can help your child build their vocabulary too by becoming exposed to plants and creatures that they wouldn’t if they were indoors. Their interest can be captivated with brightly coloured flowers and scented plants.
The research that has been carried out has all shown positive impacts of gardening on children’s behaviour and skill development. So what has this research found?
- After participating in a one-year gardening programme as part of their school curriculum, children aged 8-11 showed a significant increase in the ability to work in groups compared to those children who didn’t participate at all which is fantastic.
- Children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables or at least express a preference for these foods. I can definitely agree with this, whenever Jack used to grow stuff with my Dad, he would always eat it.
- Youth interns in community gardens reported increases in maturity and interpersonal skills.
- Students expressed an increased understanding of ecology and responsibility to care for the environment.
Activities to try
There are plenty of different activities to try in the garden. As well as having structured games, it can be good to let your child take the lead on what they want to do in the garden. They might use their own imagination to come up with an activity that you can both get involved in.
For older children, you could create a bird feeder out of a plastic bottle to encourage wildlife into the garden. This is easy enough to do by following these simple steps.
- Create 2 holes opposite each other at the bottom of the bottle, insert a stick through this and this will become a perch
- Make feeding holes close to the perch (not too big or else the feed will fall out)
- Create holes in the neck of the bottle, you can pass string through here and hang the bottle from a branch
- Unscrew the lid and fill with seeds for the birds!
For smaller children, you could take them around the garden and search for clues to which animals have visited. This could be in the form of feathers, tiny tracks or snail trails. Such a lovely idea.
Grow their own
As well as playing games and getting crafty, you can also grow plants and vegetables with children. This is a good way for them to get regularly involved in the garden and monitor their own progress.
Growing a tree is understandably a long-term gardening project, but it can be fun for a child to see how their tree is growing over time.
Easy seeds to grow in the garden are:
- Conkers. These can be collected from a horse chestnut tree
- Acorns from an oak tree
- Helicopters from a sycamore tree
These can all be planted in a pot with soil and compost. It is likely that it will be around spring when the seed sprouts — you may have to transfer it to a bigger pot eventually.
Planting seeds with your children that are easy to sow and quick growing are fab for keeping their attention and interest levels in the garden. Vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and spring onions are all easy to grow and maintain.
To encourage healthy eating, plant those that they like to eat so they can follow the journey of the seed from planting to their plate!
There are other plants that are fun to grow. Suttons sell vegetable seeds and a range of fun seeds that have been designed for children. These include:
- Cress — a fast-growing plant that can be grown indoors and outdoors and added to a salad afterwards.
- Sunflowers — tall growing so children can practise their measuring skills as it grows.
- A Mimosa Pudica (a dancing plant) that when it is touched, its leaves ‘dance’ and curl up tightly.
The list of activities is endless that you can do with your children in the garden. Get outdoors and get involved with your child and you’ll soon see the benefits!