Playing in dirt isn’t just loads of fun – it’s healthy, too
By Kimberly Blaker
There’s no question, playing in the dirt tops the list of fun for young children despite the protests of many well-intentioned grandparents and parents. If you’re one of those grandparents, you can put your fears aside.
It turns out dirt is actually beneficial to the long-term health of kids, according to a Northwestern University article, “Germs at Four, Less Inflammation at Forty,” by Clare Milliken. Studies have found that early exposure to certain germs, like those found in dirt, actually help kids’ immune systems learn to better regulate inflammation. In turn, this exposure reduces kids’ risk for a number of diseases throughout their lives.
For that reason, a family garden is a perfect opportunity to build your grandkids’ immune systems. Better still, gardening offers lots of other benefits to kids and grandparents. Through gardening, kids learn to be responsible by caring for their own plants. It’s also a great way to help kids learn about and develop an appreciation for science. Another health benefit is that gardening encourages healthier eating. Not to mention, it’s a great activity for family bonding.
So gather up your grandkids and gardening supplies, head outdoors, and get ready for some dirt-filled fun.
First, decide where to plant your garden. Then allot a small space for your grandchild to have his or her own garden, too. This will help build your grandchild’s enthusiasm for the garden and encourage him or her to take ownership and responsibility for it. Having their own garden is especially exciting and rewarding for kids because they know that they, alone (or with minimal help), grew those little seeds into a marvelous plant.
Next, decide what to plant. For young children, consider fast-growing plants your grandkids are familiar with. Little kids also love plants that are colorful or have strong scents.
If your grandkids are older, let them choose what they want to grow. Keep in mind your grandchild’s personality, though. If your grandkid tends to be impatient, suggest plants that are easy to care for and grow quickly.
As you proceed in planning and preparation, include your grandchild in it as much as possible. Remember, this stage is as much fun for kids as it is for grandparents and helps build kids’ enthusiasm. Also, let your grandkids help you draw up the garden plan. If they’re old enough, they can also create their own shopping list.
When you go shopping for the supplies, take your grandkids along, and let them pick out their own seeds and gardening tools. For the safety of young children, look for kids’ gardening tools made of durable plastic.
Planting your garden
When you begin planting, show your grandchild how to plant the seeds and how to properly space them apart. Then have him or her water the seeds as directed.
To help your grandchild take responsibility for their own garden, put a gardening task list on the refrigerator for when your child visits.
Also, to help your grandchild maintain enthusiasm, suggest he keep a garden log. Your grandchild can record the date of plantings, gardening activities, when each plant sprouts, the amount of growth of the plants, and the harvesting of the plants.
Finally, after harvesting, have your grandchild help you prepare the vegetables. Offer different ways to prepare or cook them to help your grandchild develop a life-long love for fresh, healthy veggies.