5 reasons gardening with kids gives them a healthy start

Get kids digging in the dirt alongside you to improve their eating habits, give them a mental health boost and reduce their risk for obesity.

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When you’re getting out in the garden, be sure to bring the kids along. They’ll benefit in all kinds of unexpected ways. Here are a few:

1. It will make them more likely to eat fruits and veggies
Think nothing will ever make your picky eater like kale? Try letting him grow the plant in the backyard. Research has shown that when kids have a part in growing their own vegetables, they’re more likely to eat them. One 2007 study from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that preschoolers who ate homegrown fruits and vegetables were more than twice as likely to get five servings a day as those who never ate food from a backyard garden. Plus, the mini gardener group preferred the taste of fresh produce to other foods. Another study, from the University of Florida in 2016, found that the effects of gardening with kids continue into adulthood, as college students ate half a cup more fruits and veggies if they were young growers.

2. It provides (fun!) exercise
Get your kids to put down the tablet and give you a hand. Though it might seem like planting, weeding, watering and harvesting veggies isn’t likely to work up a sweat, when the American Society for Horticultural Sciences actually measured those and other gardening tasks, they determined that nurturing a garden constitutes moderate to high-intensity physical activity for kids. Digging and raking were the most demanding tasks. And, if your kid doesn’t like those, send them running back and forth to the gardening shed to fetch your gloves, watering can and other tools, and they’ll be sure to tire themselves out.

3. They’ll get covered in good bacteria
Try not to worry about the fact that your kid is getting covered, head to toe, in dirt. (Oh, the laundry!) All that soil exposes kids to germs that help them build a strong immune system. Researchers have noted that kids who come in contact with more microbes—say, from growing up on a farm—have lower rates of allergies. Microbiologist Brett Finlay is so passionate about kids getting exposed to those good microbes, he wrote a book called Let Them Eat Dirt. In it, he writes, “When the immune system encounters a harmless microbe—and the vast majority of microbes are harmless—it detects it and, through a series of mechanisms that science does not yet fully understand, decides to ignore or tolerate it….The consequence of missing out on this early training appears to be that, later in life, the immune system may react too fiercely to these harmless microbes.” He explains that this leads to inflammatory responses, causing things like obesity and asthma.

4. It teaches them lessons about the environment
If your kids think all worms are made of gummy candy, it’s time to show them how life starts, from the ground up. Offering kids a hand-on experience where they nurture growing plants, learn the importance of healthy soil and water and discover where their food comes from provides the understanding they need to appreciate the environment around them. Some schools have begun incorporating gardening programs into their curriculum because of the important health and sustainability lessons these opportunities afford kids, but it’s just as easy to do this at home.

5. It offers a mental health boost
You might have noticed it’s easier to find your zen in the great outdoors; kids feel the same way. Gardening is actually so widely accepted as being good for your well-being that there’s a name for it: horticultural therapy. Gardens have been introduced at hospitals and rehab centres to offer psychological benefits to patients. The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario calls their Healing Earth Garden a place to “retreat and renew energy.” Research suggests that there are stress-relieving benefits to gardening with kids. In fact, just spending the time in the dirt—playing in a natural habitat instead of on an asphalt playground—has been shown to reduce kids’ stress and inattention. Some research has also suggested that a particular bacterium that’s found in soil may have mood-boosting effects and a positive effect on learning behaviours.

Read more:
Why your kids should plant their own garden

25 nature-inspired activities for toddlers

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