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* Thinking Outside the Planter Box: The Benefits of Gardening With Your Children

By Sarah Laury, LCSW, Courier & Press, May 16, 2017 –

Every year as springtime rolls around we are welcomed by signs of the changing seasons.  The grass starts to green, the days get longer, and the flowers start to bloom.

For me, one of the most exciting signs that spring is around the corner is that my seed catalogs arrive in the mail and the hardware stores open their garden centers for the season.  In my family gardening is a tradition, and we involve our children in all parts of the process. We work together to plan, plant, harvest, and of course enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Many people are aware of the nutritional benefits of gardening with children.  Gardening allows children to have a better understanding of where their food comes from, and various studies have shown that children who participate in growing their own food are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, even developing a preference to fruits and vegetables over other snacks.

Besides the nutritional benefits, there are also many important psychological benefits to gardening as a family.  First, gardening is a great way to incorporate exercise and physical activity into your child’s routine.  When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins, or “feel good hormones.”

In addition to this, exercise has been shown to decrease stress levels and increase serotonin levels in the body.  Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter in the brain and is thought to be partially responsible for influencing mood as well as anxiety and depression.

Gardening also requires the gardener to slow down.  Because we live in such a fast-paced and electronics-focused society, it is more important than ever to encourage our children (and ourselves) to practice mindfulness.  By definition, mindfulness is “the state of being conscious or aware of something” or the ability to focus on one particular thing without distraction.

Gardening is a great way to teach our children to be mindful.  When you garden, you have to be aware of the needs of your plants in order for them to flourish.  Are they getting enough water?  Are they getting enough sun?  Do they need to be weeded or fertilized?

In addition to being mindful, taking care of other living things such as plants can help children gain a sense of responsibility and purpose or belonging.  In addition to being in the moment with your garden, caring for a plot has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.

In an experiment published in the Journal of Health Psychology, gardening was compared to reading as a stress-relieving activity.  Test subjects that gardened experienced a more significant decrease in stress when compared to the subjects that were assigned to read.

You don’t have to live in the country or even have a yard in order to experience the benefits of gardening with your children.  You can reap these benefits whether you have rows upon rows of crops, a window sill herb garden or even a single potted tomato plant on your patio.

If you would like to learn more about gardening with your children, please visit the website for the Purdue Extension office in Vanderburgh County at https://extension.purdue.edu/Vanderburgh/pages/default.aspx.