Monday, December 4, 2023

Gardening in Afterschool Programs

By Sam Piha 

Research tells us that young people’s connection to the outdoors and nature contributes to their healthy development. This connection can be promoted by involving youth in gardening. And afterschool programs are particularly well positioned to offer gardening activities. Perhaps you have a staff  member, teacher or parent who has a passion for gardening and who could lead the “club”. (Note: Our series of blog posts on gardening in afterschool are excerpts from a larger briefing paper entitled, Gardening in Afterschool Programs.) 

“By incorporating a garden into an afterschool program, educators can create a dynamic and enriching environment that promotes active learning, fosters a connection with nature, and encourages positive health and environmental habits among participants.” [1]

There are many benefits for young people who are engaged in gardening. 

“Through school gardens, students become stewards of the environment and gain a stake in the community and the world. This empowers them to discover the connections between personal health, education and opportunity.” [2]  

According to author Brianna Flavin (Rasmussen University), there are many benefits to engaging children and adolescents in gardening activities: 

“1. It encourages them to eat healthier: It makes some intuitive sense. Half the fun of gardening is getting to eat what you grow. But the positive effect a sun-warmed strawberry has on your little ones will continue to ripple throughout their lives. 

2. It provides engaging, moderate exercise: If you’ve ever spent an afternoon in the garden, you’ve probably experienced time flying and sore that students involved in hands-on school gardening programs developed. 

“These days all kids could benefit from a little more physical activity and sunshine they’ll get while gardening. Activities like moving soil, carrying a heavy watering can, digging in the dirt and pushing a wheelbarrow can promote gross motor skills and overall strength for a more fit body. Plus, these activities, known as “heavy work,” have been shown to help kids stay calm and focused.” [3] 

3. It builds a sense of confidence: Teachers and parents alike recognize how crucial confidence can be in a child’s ability to grow and learn. The process of tending a plant and seeing it bloom or produce food takes time and patience, but the payoff in satisfaction is equal to the investment. 

Source: Rethink: Rural

“It is wonderful for building a child’s sense of competence, as they engage in a real-life activity that they might have previously seen as only for adults. Give any children the experience of dabbling a tiny seed into a hole, watering it, protecting it and watching it explode into life and growth—and they might just feel like they have magic powers!” [4]

4. It develops STEM & analytical abilities: Gardening exercises important reasoning, initiation, planning and organization skills,” Matthews says. She advises parents or teachers to have their kids do a little gardening research before diving in. Children can read up on the various stages of growth, the tools they’ll need or different ways the plants are used after they grow. For even further development, Matthews suggests working on math and science skills by encouraging your children to observe their plants’ life cycles. 'Children can measure their plants or make other observations and record their observations in a journal.' 

5. It relieves stress: The main benefit of gardening is learning to relax,” says counselor and maternal child nurse Orly Katz, LCPC. Katz emphasizes that gardening helps children make a habit of calming themselves. “Gardening allows kids to be alone, it allows them to breathe fresh air and be in peace by themselves.” Research indicates that the calming effect gardening has on the brain extends even beyond
the actual act of gardening.  

6. It improves focus & memory: Consistent involvement in gardening can contribute to improved alertness, cognitive abilities and social skills, according to Garden Organic. The act of gardening as a therapeutic treatment (known as horticulture therapy) has shown to be particularly effective in rehabilitating motor, speech and cognitive abilities after illness. The improvements in memory and attention were even more significant when children engaged in an activity outdoors, such as—you guessed it— gardening! 

7. It positively impacts mood & psychological wellbeing: Increased memory and focus are fabulous. But that is only part of the positive influence gardening has on the human brain. Garden Organic states that elements of gardening have the ability to trigger emotions in people.  Well beyond mood, gardening can also serve as a powerful therapeutic tool against depression and anxiety. Gardens and the act of gardening have been found to have a positive impact on peoples’ health and wellbeing.” [5] 

Amy Morin, LCSW (Very Well Family) adds to these named benefits:

  • Plant Care Fosters Responsibility: Whether it’s flowers or vegetables, caring for plants helps teenagers develop responsibility. They also gain a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence as they raise small sprouts into full blooming beauties. 
  • Plants Offer a Great Way to Connect: Plants can be a great tool for bonding with aloof kids or to help teen siblings connect in a way that doesn't involve arguing.” [6]

End Notes

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