Engaging children in regular and on-going gardening practices provides a range of benefits for their development. Not only does it give them hands-on access to the natural world and provides learning through all their senses – sight, smell, touch, taste and sound, but gardening also provides positive outcomes for health and well-being, and can support mental health.
I’ve been gardening with young children for 4½ years and have noticed how being engaged in the hands-on act of gardening provides young children with such a sense of achievement. When I arrive they are excited to see me, and they take me to the garden to show me what has grown in the time since I was there last. They tell me about what produce they have harvested. Sometimes they also sadly tell me that something had been pulled out – often naming the child who did it too! However, the overarching dispositions I see are pride and achievement in what they have grown.
Gardening allows children to connect with nature and each other. They are touching, seeing, smelling, hearing, and at harvest time, tasting nature. And throughout all of these acts they are building confidence.
Children who engage in gardening become immersed in a world that does not judge. Instead it inspires and motivates, giving them instant responses to their work. Gardening helps them to connect to the world around them and in so doing they learn about care and respect for other living things, which helps the development of emotional competence. Gardening can evoke a range of emotions. For example:
- Excitement when a seed germinates
- Disappointment when a seed fails to germinate
- Sadness when a plant dies
- Happiness when they see that their care and attention has helped the plants to grow and bloom or produce food
- Frustration when young seedlings get eaten by slugs, snails or caterpillars
- Satisfaction when you put steps in place to combat these pests and you are successful
With the support of caring adults, gardening can provide a tangible way for children to learn about and understand their emotions. Furthermore, the very act of working in the garden provides a sense of calm. There is a reason why gardening is one of the activities listed to help serve our mental health.
Scientists have discovered microbes that live in the soil that are antidepressants (Mycobacterium vaccae). These microbes have been found to lower stress and improve concentration. So digging, watering, planting, weeding, fertilising and harvesting is not only satisfying, it also helps to relieve stress levels. Getting our hands busy, working in the garden is touching and experiencing nature, and it is calming.
I often work with children who struggle in other situations, become calm and focused when they are working in the garden. And they show a sense of pride and achievement at what they have done.
Gardening also helps children to regulate their own behaviour and learn about rules and boundaries. When they are engaged fully in the process of gardening, they are less likely to engage in destructive behaviour in the garden, such as pulling out plants or walking over the garden. They learn that if they do this, their garden won’t survive. Furthermore, they develop a sense of responsibility and teach their peers to also respect the garden.
Finally, gardening involves patience – patience as we wait for that seed to germinate, patience as we wait for the seedling to grow, patience while we wait for the flowers or vegetables to mature. And with that patience comes pride and a sense of achievement at each stage of the process, knowing that they had a hand in caring for a living thing.
Through the simple act of engaging children in gardening on a regular basis we are opening up a world that enhances well-being that over time, can be transferred to other aspects of their lives.
If you have enjoyed this blog post, why not see my post titled: Why should we garden with young children?
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