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You've heard "Mom, I'm bored" more than a few times lately. Interest your child in gardening and you'll not only entertain him, you'll also sneak in some fresh air and exercise at the same time. When a child designs, plants and maintains a garden, the rewards he gains digging into that backyard dirt will benefit him now and in the future. Make it a family affair and you'll encourage a healthy hobby the entire family can enjoy.
Your child experiences self-satisfaction when his seeds grow into plants.
The colorful, healthy salad will be the talk of the dinner table when the ingredients come straight from your child's garden. French fries are the most common source of vegetables for children, according to the American Heart Association, but gardening can change a child's attitude toward unhealthy food choices. Children are more eager to eat what they've grown. "Kids naturally want to be part of the wonder of planting a seed in the nutrient-rich soil, adding a little sunshine and water, and enjoying the benefits of a healthy whole food source," says Kelly Meyer, a child-nutrition activist who co-founded the American Heart Association Teaching Gardens.
A garden is a place where you can go with your kids to teach them about healthy food choices without being a total nag. "If you are spouting the virtues of a carrot -- vitamin A that's good for your eyes —while in a garden, you won't have the direct competition of the TV or Internet telling your kids that what they really should want to eat is a sugary soda or a salty chip," Meyer says.
Your child will get a moderate to vigorous gross-motor workout when she bends, stretches, shovels and digs in her garden. She'll also strengthen her fine-motor skills when she plants seeds and holds gardening tools. Children should do at least one hour of physical activity each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and gardening is an enjoyable way to log those hours of exercise. A physically active child has a lower risk of developing diseases later in life.
Kids typically spend an average of seven hours a day on electronic media, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The Academy recommends children engage with electronics no more than one or two hours a day. If you introduce your child to gardening, she might be more willing to separate from her video games.
Gardening has a calming effect—it gives your child the opportunity to take a break from the pressures of school and a busy lifestyle. Focusing on the beauty of a flower he's planted or the ripe, red tomato that's appearing on the vine encourages him to slow down and connect with nature. Working in a garden will invigorate your child and activate his senses. He'll see, hear, touch and smell nature as he plants vegetables and flowers. This reduces anxiety and better equips him to handle daily demands.
Quality Family Time
You'll develop stronger bonds with your child when you carve out the time to dig into the soil, plant, weed and water your garden, side by side. "As co-founder of the Teaching Gardens and a mom, I absolutely understand the hectic schedules that we all have to keep in order to make everyone happy and keep our families running smoothly," Meyer says. Use your multitasking magic and do something beneficial for your kids while giving yourself some time out of the car and into the dirt. "Think about it—a garden may be the only place left on earth where it would be just wrong to text," Meyer quips. You just might have some of your best conversations to date out in that garden.
A love for learning will naturally grow when your child explores the soil, rocks, bugs, plants and interesting finds in her garden. She won't even realize she's doing a science experiment when she charts the growth of plants or makes predictions about how tall her flowers will grow. Now she's not just reading about life cycles, she's witnessing them. She'll hone her math skills when she measures and plans her garden design. Children naturally investigate when their interest is sparked. Your child might want to research earthworms if she meets one up close. Her experiences will eventually transfer into creative stories and art projects about the garden.
Appreciation of Nature
When your little gardener chooses seeds, plants them in the soil, waters them and watches them grow, he witnesses the forces of nature—sunshine, soil and water—working together in life. He'll plant a seed that evolves into a turnip or pull the weeds away from a delicate flower, and he'll take pride in the fact that he's responsible for a living thing's survival. This interaction promotes a better understanding of the relationship between humans and the environment. Your child will get a sense of himself as a nurturer who has a connection to something larger than himself.