Studies show that children who help with gardening, whether at home or in a school or community garden, can benefit both cognitively and physically. School and home gardens help encourage students to eat healthier, and to try new fruits and vegetables. It also connects the students and children to the environment, prevents childhood obesity, promotes physical activity, and encourages new ways of learning.
According to Saint Louis University research, a “garden produce creates what we call a positive food environment,” says Debra Haire-Joshu, Ph.D., director of Saint Louis University’s Obesity Prevention Center and a study author. She went on to say that “When children are involved with growing and cooking food, it improves their diet”. The University also concluded that 'the difference is in where the vegetables come from. Kids that eat vegetables grown at home are 5 times more likely to eat and try new vegetables compared to families without home gardens.'
Gardening is also an excellent way for kids to understand the entire process it takes to get vegetables from seed to their plate. As an early childhood educator, I know that in order for children to fully comprehend a subject area (in this case, ecology), it is important to understand the whole process, in fact, to be able to observe the 'full picture', from start to finish. In scientific studies and observation, children can learn so much by growing their own plants and vegetables. They learn that their food actually comes from the earth, and does not just end up on their plate in it's edible state. They also learn about the importance of agriculture, of protecting our earth (Earth Day is in April!), and of how our food is made.
By physically being involved in the gardening process, tilling the soil, watering, picking, and so on, children realize that farmers have a hard job that involves strenuous labour. So, when kids grow their own fruits and vegetables, and work hard to make it edible, they are more likely to eat it. This gives them knowledge on healthy eating and healthy choices, and, if they are preparing meals from their own homegrown vegetable garden, they are going to learn about proper nutrition and organic food. Also, physical labour is good 'exercise' for children, and they enjoy 'exercise' more when it produces positive results (in this case, their own vegetables!).
With a background in Montessori education, I am all about teaching in new and exciting ways. Many Montessori Schools (especially in the U.S) are introducing edible gardens to their learning curriculum. Claire’s Montessori Edible Garden posted a blog on their new edible garden project. The Directress said "It is going to be a great addition to our program. School gardens help encourage students to eat healthier, and to try new fruits and vegetables. It also connects the students to the environment, prevents childhood obesity, promotes physical activity, and encourages new ways of learning."
The George Watts Montessori Edible Garden teaches kids about helping others and compassion by sharing food from their community garden with families in need.
Everyone knows that gardens are handy sources of fresh and local food, but increasingly they're also an extension of therapy for people with mental health issues, of which counsellors call 'horticultural therapy'. There is increasing evidence that gardening can help children with anxiety and mental health issues, and even build upon their self-esteem.
Much of the science behind just how gardening affects the mind and brain still remains a mystery. What scientists do know is that gardening reduces stress and calms the nerves. It decreases cortisol, a hormone that plays a role in stress response. (reference below)
So with this information in mind, what better way to celebrate Earth Day, and build on children's physical, emotional, and cognitive growth, than to plant your own edible garden this spring?
Here are some tips that I have found to be helpful in planning your edible garden experience: