Encourage your child to spend more time outdoors this year by letting them help you in the garden! There are a great number benefits to your child helping to plant and grow vegetables and fruits, including everything from helping them appreciate where their food comes from (and to be more interested in eating vegetables), to helping reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
In addition to psychological and emotional stimulation, helping in the garden is also a great way for children to develop physical skills from fine motor coordination to gross motor skills.
8 Reasons It’s Important for Children to Help Garden
A garden is filled with sensory stimulation. Smells from tomato leaves to wet soils, textures from bumpy cucumbers to soft sage, and flavors from sweet basil to crunchy zucchini ignite a child’s senses, firing neurons that help strengthen and stimulate the brain. In addition to these sensory stimuli are the physical benefits of gardening. Children practice physical movements from fine motor coordination to gross motor skills in the garden. Here are some of our favorite reasons it’s important for children to help in the garden.
1 – Exercise Attention Span
In a world that is becoming more and more diluted with 5-second media snippets, it’s more important than ever to consciously help our children exercise their attention spans. Think back to when you were a child and you could spend hours dragging a stick through the dirt, or when you could spend an hour or two playing with the same toy instead of switching between toys every 30 seconds. A strong ability to maintain focus and attention contributes to better job performance and stability, longer relationships, and healthier living.
In a garden, weeding, planting, and harvesting all take the ability to focus on a single task since the garden will not flourish unless all these jobs are taken care of on a regular basis. Help make it fun for your child by turning on music outside or having fresh lemonade or a fun fruit plate as a reward partway through the work.
2 – Teaches Delayed Gratification
When you plant a seed, you won’t see a sprout right away and won’t be able to harvest fruit or vegetables for quite some time. It’s an important lesson for children to learn that you can and should work hard for a long-term reward instead of feeling the need to be rewarded immediately for your efforts.
Help your children understand this process by reading books about gardens and seeds (if you have a younger child, we recommend In the Garden, From Seed to Plant, or One Bean). You can also simultaneously plant seeds in mason jars, like Little Bins for Little Hands did in this cool seed growing experiment, so your children can observe the process of seeds growing to better understand what is happening to the seeds in the soil.
3 – Provides a Fun Source of Exercise
Teresa O’Connor from Seasonal Wisdom discusses the following idea about encouraging your children to help garden: “Gardening provides lots of healthy ways for kids to stay active and healthy. Between digging, raking, and planting, your children will get plenty of exercise, vitamin D and fresh air. Be sure to make your garden chores creative, and mix them up a bit so they stay interesting. With a little patience, you’ll find your children will become helpful and fun assistants in the garden.”
4 – Teaches Responsibility
Your children are in a constant state of transition where they are learning the difference between what other people will do for them vs. what they are able to do for themselves. When children help in the garden, they are taking another step in this learning process, understanding that everything has to be done by someone; that things don’t just magically happen on their own.
If your child is older, consider giving them their very own space in the garden and letting them take charge of what gets planted there, as well as leading the organization of care for their garden. Do your best to guide the process in a way that gives them responsibility and leadership while helping make sure their efforts successful.
5 – Helps get your children outside
Susan Patterson from Off the Grid News offers this advice about why your child should help garden: “We talk a lot about environmental pollution and sustainable living, but there is no better way than gardening to get children connected to the natural world. Today’s generation is so disconnected from nature that they hardly know where our food comes from or from what our clothes are made. The bookish knowledge often fails to translate into real understanding of how our needs are met. Give them a chance to dig in the mud and observe the interaction between living things and the elements. Establishing a personal relationship with the environment makes them naturally protective of it.”
6 – Helps children appreciate where food comes from
Usually it seems to kids that a “magic food fairy” helps food appear in the fridge and on the table every evening. Having your children be a part of what creates that food gives them a whole new understanding for the process, hard work, and time it takes to make food.
Make sure to extend this lesson when you are sitting down at the dinner table to eat your fresh produce. Ask if they remember planting the seeds and how the seeds had to be watered every day. Ask them how they felt when they saw the first sprouts and if they remember how long it took for the food to grow to its full size so the family could eat it.
7 – It helps your child eat their vegetables
One of our moms shared this funny story of her child’s farm experience with fresh peas: “My daughter saw a huge bucket of shelled peas at the farm and wanted to try some, so I let her. She insisted she didn’t like them, and spat them into my hand (ew). Then we got home and sat down to shell a bowl of peas for ourselves – she loved the fine motor activity, but didn’t relate that she could eat them. Partway in I asked her if she wanted to try the peas she shelled by herself. Naturally she said yes…and loved them! She ate fresh peas the rest of the time we were shelling them and then we celebrated finishing the shelling by heating a bowl of peas with a little butter, salt and pepper. Now she says ‘I looooove peas.’ Isn’t it funny how shelling them yourself makes them taste better?”
Children naturally take pride in the things they help make themselves. Let your child help you in the garden and watch their wonder and excitement to eat what they helped grow.
8 – Giving your child an opportunity to play in nature may help reduce symptoms of ADHD
In this national study by PhD’s Frances E. Kuo and Andrea Faber Taylor, they found that green outdoor activities reduced symptoms of ADHD significantly more than activities conducted in other settings, even when activities were matched across settings.
In this study they discussed many aspects of this theory, including the following: “Two studies to date have examined the impacts of exposure to nature among individuals with ADHD. Both focused on children aged 7 to 12 years who had been professionally diagnosed with ADHD. In the first study, 96 parents rated a variety of leisure activities with respect to whether their child’s symptoms were better than, worse than, or the same as usual after engaging in those activities. Parents also rated the general severity of their child’s symptoms and provided information on the “greenness” of the child’s typical play settings. Results indicated that symptoms were better than usual after activities in relatively green settings. Moreover, the aftereffects of activities taking place in green outdoor settings were better than those of activities taking place either indoors or in relatively built outdoor settings, and the greener a child’s typical play settings, the less severe his or her general symptoms.” Read more about this study here.
Some parents ask how to give their children outdoor experiences when they don’t have a garden or don’t have experience (successfully) growing things. The answer is to just make the beset of whatever situation you’re in! If your family lives in an apartment or condo without a yard, plant seeds in a few pots along your doorstep or patio. If you’re naturally inclined to kill plants, try easy-to-raise vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini, corn, or lettuce.
This article was originally published June 2018 and was updated February 2023 for information, relevance, and accuracy.