Family Matters: Cultivating growth in a garden

Budding gardener: Working in a garden can help children learn a whole range of skills and build strong relationships.
Budding gardener: Working in a garden can help children learn a whole range of skills and build strong relationships.

Some weeks ago I wrote about climate change and the importance of sustainability. I’d like to focus a little more closely on gardening as an outdoor activity that provides lots of different opportunities for children to learn about sustainability and to be physically active.

Gardening is something we can all do in gardens ranging from small pots to relatively large tracts of land.

Ideally gardening involves being in the outdoors and that is beneficial for children as we now have evidence that being outside and exposed to natural light is an important factor in preventing or ameliorating myopia. 

Gardening offers opportunities for children to learn a whole range of skills.

Firstly, the bigger the garden the more physical activity is involved in weeding (bending, stretching, reaching, grasping), and watering (carrying, tipping, lifting).

These activities (as many of us adults who are growing a little older each month know when we do too much at the weekend) use lots of different muscles in the body.

This exercise not only enhances muscle strength and control, but it also offers some elements of aerobic fitness. 

The learning does not stop there. Gardening offers opportunities for children to learn STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills.

You have probably noticed that STEM subjects are high on the government agenda these days so early exposure to opportunities to learn are very important.

One-to-one matching (one seedling per hole) is the foundation upon which counting and mathematical understanding is built.

For an older child you can focus on measurement – how far apart do the holes need to be for the seedlings to grow.

Do the seedlings need morning or afternoon sun (or no sun) and what does that mean for where we ought to plant them?

How much water does each plant need, and therefore how much water do we need to put in the watering can?

What insects and pests are likely to be a problem and how do we manage them? 

Then of course we can focus on learning about health.

The kinds of vegetables and fruit we grow can lead to investigations of the nutrient content of each, ways of cooking (or not cooking) and serving each one and what each contributes to a balanced diet.

In Armidale we have wonderful opportunities for our children to be involved in gardening. Lots of our homes have room around them for gardens – big or small – and with spring here it might be a really good time to think about how we can involve our children in gardening.