It’s hard to put into words just how much I love gardening. I’ve tried, but I always come up a little short. When you really love something, this can be frustrating, especially when you want to share this passion with everyone you know.
The combination of being outside, engaging all of my senses, and nurturing living things is so enjoyable, so rewarding. There’s nothing like it. Not to mention the pride of producing my own food.
And connecting with the cycles of nature, both on a macro scale—like the seasons— and a micro scale—like caterpillar life cycles—instills a sense of wonder and joy only comparable to raising a child.
The strange thing is that gardening was such an integral part of my life growing up I wasn’t aware of this passion until I left home and wasn’t gardening anymore. I suppose this is how it works with kids.
I grew up with a large vegetable garden and perennial beds around my house. My mom set aside small plots in each that I was responsible for planting and tending. If she had a plant in her garden that I liked, I’d divide it or take cuttings and make a small version of my own.
Children take to gardening naturally—exploring, observing, and caring for plants and soil. These kinds of activities are a normal part of a child’s learning and development and reinforce traits that while less common in adults, benefit them greatly. The empathy, wonder, and curiosity cultivated in the garden create kids who are happier, healthier, and more connected to their community and the natural world.
When I met the KidsGardening team for the first time, I felt understood. My struggle to describe the power of gardening was no longer an issue. In fact, I didn’t need words. They just knew. For 35 years, this organization has been working to get more kids learning through the garden because they’ve learned firsthand and through our nationwide network of educators that gardening changes lives. It:
- Improves self-esteem and attitudes toward school. 1
- Improves social skills and behavior.2
- Improves environmental attitudes especially in younger students.3
- Increases group cohesion.4
- Improves interpersonal relationships.5
- Improves students' attitudes towards vegetables and fruit and healthy snacks.6
- Improves attitudes towards healthy foods and increase the perceived value of vegetables.7
- Significantly increases science achievement scores.8
And this is just the beginning. Every day we hear beautiful stories of educators inspiring children through garden-based learning. Every year, new studies come out reporting the measurable benefits of this work with kids.
My hope is to use this blog as a way to document and share both what we know, and what we are learning about the benefits of gardening with kids. Please join me as I explore the kids gardening movement we are helping to lead across this nation.
1 Sheffield, B.K.. 1992. The affective cognitive effects of an interdisciplinary garden-based curriculum on underachieving elementary students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
2 DeMarco, L., P.D. Relf and A.McDaniel. 1999. Integrating gardening into the elementary school curriculum. HortTechnology. 9(2): 276-281.
3 Skelly, S.M., and J.M. Zajicek. 1998. The effect an interdisciplinary garden program, on the environmental attitudes of elementary school students. HortTechnology 8 (4):579-583
4 Bunn, D.E. 1986. Group cohesiveness is enhanced as children engage in plant-stimulated discovery activities. Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture. 1:37-43.
5 Campbell, A.N., T.M. Waliczek, J.C., Bradley, J.M. Zajicek, and C.D. Townsend. 1997. The influence of activity -based environmental instruction on high school students' environmental attitudes. HortTechnology 7(3): p. 309. Waliczek, T.M. and J.M. Zajicek. 1999. School gardening: Improving environmental attitudes of children through hands-on learning. Journal of Environmental Horticulture 17:180-184.
6 Lineberger, S.E. and J.M. Zajicek. 1999. School gardens: can a hands-on teaching tool affect students’ attitudes and behaviors regarding fruits and vegetables. HortTechnology. 10(3)L 593-597.
7 Cavaliere, D. 1987. How zucchini won fifth-grade hearts. Children Today, 16(3), 18-21.
8 Klemmer, C.D., T.M.Waliczek and J.M Zajicek. 2005. Growing minds: the effect of a school gardening program on the science achievement of elementary students. HortTechnology. 15(3): 448-452. Smith, L.L. and C.E. Motsenbocker. 2005. Impact of hands-on science through school gardening in Louisiana public elementary schools. HortTechnology. 15(3): 439-443.