Why Garden with Kids?
There are so many reasons! First and foremost, a garden is a wonderful place for children to play, learn, and grow. In addition, research has shown that youth who participate in gardening programs enjoy dramatic, documented gains in many areas of growth. These gains are particularly valuable for kids whose socioeconomic challenges may negatively affect food security, day-to-day health, and access to experiential learning.
Why is gardening with children important?
Every year we survey the youth garden programs we support. The majority of leaders of these programs note improvements in these (and many more) characteristics:
- Attitude toward conservation and sustainability
- Environmental literacy and attitudes toward nature
- Social skills
- Fruit and vegetable consumption
- Community spirit
What are some of the benefits of youth gardens and school gardens?
Abundance. The nutritious bounty and natural beauty of youth gardens support the health and well-being of kids of all ages. Gardens are an ideal place for learning and provide limited opportunities for educators. When kids grow food, they’re much more likely to eat it. And when we give them opportunities to share the bounty, they practice compassion and generosity toward others.
Connection. Youth gardens also alleviate isolation. Much has been written about the “loneliness epidemic” in both children and adults. Youth gardens bring people together, creating the human connection necessary to help calm anxieties and promote hopefulness. Humans have a strong instinct to belong to small groups with a common purpose, and gardening is a safe way to gather and connect.
Empowerment. Youth gardens empower individuals with the means to take action. When kids take steps to solve problems, such as using gardening to mitigate climate change or feed the hungry, it gives them agency by teaching them skills to help solve societal problems. It also boosts their sense of self-efficacy — their belief in themselves as agents of change — as well as their sense of meaning and purpose.
Does research show that gardening benefits kids?
Yes! Research confirms what we know in our experience and in our hearts. Gardening has a positive influence on many aspects of kids' lives.
Garden-related learning experiences offer practical connections to a wide range of teaching objectives and curricular standards. The garden offers hands-on exploration of so many subjects, including science, math, art, literature, and history. Gardening allows kids to learn through experience, fostering a growth mindset through trial and error. A garden is a laboratory. It is a safe, fun place to try new things, make "mistakes," and learn from them.
Research: In a review of 12 different studies on the benefits of school gardens, all 12 found that students engaged in gardening scored higher on science achievement tests. (1)
Nutritional Awareness and Physical Activity
When kids grow and harvest fruits and vegetables, they’re more motivated to taste them! Garden programs are effective in significantly increasing children's fruit and vegetable intake. Gardening also offers kids ample opportunities to get outdoors, walking, lifting, carrying, digging, and planting, as well as practicing balance and dexterity, all while participating in an enjoyable and engaging activity.
Research: Quantitative studies showed positive outcomes of school-gardening initiatives in the areas of science achievement and food behavior. (2) Studies conducted in a variety of settings in four countries and involving children between the age of 2 and 15 found that garden programs were effective in significantly increasing children's fruit and vegetable intake. (3) A study of 320 sixth-grade students involved in food growing over a four-month period found that students were more willing to taste and ate a greater variety of vegetables than those in the control group. (4)
Gardening engages kids' innate sense of curiosity and fosters feelings of connection to place/community, plants, animals, food, and their bodies. Gardening engages kids' innate sense of curiosity, wonder, and joy; this sets the stage for building positive associations with nature and fosters their feeling of connectedness to place/community, plants, animals, food, and their bodies.
Research: Connectedness builds empathy within kids. When we feel a bond with things, we care for them. Preschoolers participating in a garden project in South Korea made significantly higher gains in scientific attitudes and nature-friendly attitudes than preschoolers not participating in the project. While in the garden, the participating group experienced self-directed and cooperative learning, engaged in the scientific process, demonstrated nature-friendly attitudes, and increased their sense of wonder. (5)
Mental Health and Social-Emotional Well-Being
Kids engaged in youth garden programs not only have fun but also develop feelings of pride and agency and practice cooperation and problem-solving skills.
Research: Findings from qualitative studies from five different countries showed that the benefits of school garden programs could include improved social-emotional learning competencies and heightened connections with nature. (6) Data collected from five classes of sixth graders over a ten-week period indicated that students experienced happiness, pride, and surprise/wonder, and exhibited cooperative behavior, significantly more often in lessons in the garden than in the classroom. (7)
Food Security and Food Sovereignty
By teaching youth to grow fruits and vegetables — and giving them a space to do so — youth gardens empower kids to feed themselves, their families and even contribute to the food insecure in their community.
Research. Researchers in Pima County, AZ, studied the role of school gardens in addressing food insecurity. They found both direct and indirect benefits, such as fresh garden produce being directly donated and students being provided with knowledge, resources, and tools to combat food insecurity by backyard gardening. (8)
Not only are youth gardens getting kids outdoors and active, but they're also fostering much-needed connections. Youth gardens are bringing communities together and inspiring these young gardeners to take action to help one another.
Research: Benefits of a community gardening program in Canada over a 5 -year period include environmental restoration, community activism, social interactions, cultural expression, and food security. (9)
Gardening with kids provides them with the needed sensory input for calm, happy bodies and minds. Every nervous system needs different sensory input. Young children especially need certain sensory information for their sensory systems and brains to develop appropriately. For example, they must activate large muscle groups and develop gross motor skills within specific time frames for their brain to wire correctly. When kids get the right amount of sensory input, their bodies feel calmer and more organized, allowing a mental state open to joy and wonder.
Research: A study of male youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) showed that garden program participants with ASD made significant improvements in independence, adaptive behavior, and interaction skills. (10)
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I start gardening with kids?
Kids of all ages can learn and grow in a garden. A few containers of easy-to-grow vegetables or flowers is a great place to start. Gardening engages young children by providing a dynamic environment to observe, discover, experiment, nurture, and learn. An adventure for all ages, the garden provides opportunities for young children to build strong connections with caring adults at home and in their communities.
How do I start a school garden?
Although school gardens vary, there are a few common steps all garden leaders must take to create a successful and sustainable program. Developing a school garden program comes down to planning and building in three main areas: people, place, and plant care. The basic steps include gathering support, determining goals, finding funds, and engaging the community.
What can I grow in a garden with kids?
The answer depends on how much time and space you have. But most importantly, ask your kids what they want to grow! Getting children involved in the planning gets them excited for their gardening adventure.
(1) Blair, D. The Child in the Garden: An Evaluative Review of The Benefits Of School Gardening. Journal of Environmental Education, 40(2), 15-38.
(2) Yost, B. and Chawla, L. (2009). Benefits of Gardening for Youth. Children, Youth and Environments Center for Research and Design.
(3) Savoie-Roskos, Wengreen & Durward, 2016, Increasing Fruit and Vegetable Intake among Children and Youth through Gardening-Based Interventions: A Systematic Review
(6) Lohr et al., 2020, The impact of school gardens on youth social and emotional learning: a scoping review
(7) Pollin & Retzlaff-Fürst, 2021, The School Garden: A Social and Emotional Place.
(9) Datta et al., 1016, Community garden: A bridging program between formal and informal learning
(10) Scartazza et al., 2020, Caring local biodiversity in a healing garden: Therapeutic benefits in young subjects with autism
Looking for at-home gardening activities? Try these fun and engaging gardening ideas that kids will love!
Read about our reach and impact in helping all kids play, learn, and grow through a garden.