A Family Affair
There is a great deal more to growing plants and gardening than the obvious soil, pots, water and petunias. It’s a family affair, or certainly could be. Introducing and engaging young ones into the world of green and growing is rife with learning opportunities, lifestyle foundational development and just good old fashioned fun. In today’s busy and scheduled world many young parents rely on peer suggestion and electronic support for parental guidance and concepts for structured play and oddly enough “free time”. Older adults, Grandparents for example, typically have a wealth of experiences to share with young children, none the least the art of cultivating plants. There is an overwhelming amount of observational evidence from health professionals, garden designers and clergy in the area of health benefits as related to being outdoors and to gardening specifically. It shows that gardens with many natural elements, help people feel connected to something greater than themselves, feel safe and shift to a more positive way of life are grounding, consistently inspire and develop patience and relationship skills. Harvard naturalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson, believes that Nature holds the key to health due to our built in affinity for it.
We as the adult population are responsible for the positive mentorship of the younger generations, therefore consider gardening or growing plants with the young people in your life. Simply strategies work the best as do simple projects. One such program, tailored for young ones up to six years is called “L’il Green Sprouts”. This “free range – semi structured” program guides the adults through a myriad of growing activities that can be facilitated right at home. Activity sheets, a cute little gardening kit with kid-sized tools, a magnifying glass and paper and pencils make up the hands on component. One could decide to grow a Chia Pet following the step by step activity sheets or perhaps follow up with an activity outside in the snow or in the summer garden, an art project. The key to this program is that the adults are spending quality time with the wee ones, talking, laughing, learning and above all, observing.
These lifestyle skills are crucial to a child’s development and their respect for nature. Once a young person has been introduced to nature, before the age of seven years, they will keep that respect and curiosity for all things in nature for life. Consider starting at home and starting early, what a tremendous gift for your young loved ones, and it keeps on growing throughout their lives.
Knowing where food comes from and participating in the culture of same is an important connection for youth today both physically and nutritionally. A study on a youth gardening program in Detroit reports that after gardening, children have an increased interest in eating fruit and vegetables, possess an appreciation for working with neighborhood adults, and have an increased interest for improvement of neighborhood appearance. In addition, they made new friends, and showed increased knowledge about nutrition, plant ecology, and gardening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate-intensity level activity for 2.5 hours each week can reduce the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death. The CDC considers gardening a moderate-intensity level activity, and can help you to achieve that 2.5 hour goal each week. Additionally, those that choose gardening are more likely to exercise 40-50 minutes longer on average than those that choose walking or biking. Starting at home with young children at the kitchen table or in the garden, the connection of food and where it comes from is vitally important, particularly if we are conscious of sustainability and the ability to feed ourselves from our own efforts. There are many examples of trending towards or perhaps back to the 100 mile food source, organically grown produce and ethically sourced food. Understanding that growing some of your own food and the associated physical activity will provide many positive benefits, seems to me to be a good combination.
The connections are pretty obvious from the health benefits to social interaction and intergenerational learning. The youth as well as the adults involved in growing plants and maintaining them learn from each other. In my own personal experience I am convinced that I learn more quite often than the kids do! You might consider an existing program to kick start your initiatives or simply just get involved with the youth in your life through gardening.