healthy kids

everything else. “When a child plants a seed, tends it over time and ultimately pulls a carrot out of the soil and eats it, they begin to know down in their bones that food comes from plants; that healthy food is delicious; and that we are part of a vast and beautiful web of life,” Cohen says. T is learning process may not match

and soil than a garden. Families don’t need lots of space, as even a small collec- tion of potted plants holds fascination for youngsters. T e fi rst step is to understand a garden as seen by a child that may be more


hildren benefi t from a close con- nection with nature, and there’s no better place to learn about plants

interested in creative play than in making things grow. Whitney Cohen, education direc-

tor at Life Lab, a nonprofi t that promotes garden-based education in Santa Cruz, California, thinks kids benefi t most from what she calls “dirt time”—spent outdoors interacting with plants, animals, soil and

Gardening Connects Kids to Nature by Barbara Pleasant

a parent’s idea of a lovely garden. “Children don’t make neat rows. T ey water leaves and fl ower petals rather than the roots. T ey accidentally step on young seedlings. Gardening with children is messy and chaotic, but there is always learning going on beneath the surface, just out of sight,” says Catherine Koons-Hubbard, nature preschool director at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Growing nutritious vegetables like cherry tomatoes allows kids to see, touch and possibly smash a food as they get to know it, increasing the likelihood that they will eventually eat it.

Incorporate Play Spaces “Children might rather be playing than following instructions,” Koons-Hubbard counsels, but it’s easy to incorporate space for free play in the garden. Depending on a child’s imagination and which toys are used, a spot of diggable soil in the shade might morph into a dinosaur refuge, pony farm or secret place for fairies. Kids are also attracted to stepping

stones, which encourage hopping, stretch- ing and even counting. Don’t be surprised if kids turn some of them into a stage or a place to stack rocks or leaves. Children love mixing soil and water

together into mud. When given a bucket of clay, soil and water, kids quickly discover they can use mud to paint, sculpt or make fantasy pies decorated with leaves, sticks or fl owers. “Playing in mud fully engages the

senses, and there are studies that show it can benefi t the immune system and make us happier,” says Leigh MacDonald-Rizzo, education director at the Ithaca Children’s Garden, in New York. References include the University of Bristol, UK, University of Colorado Boulder and University of California, Los Angeles. “Mud isn’t anything, really, and

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