Last month we ran an article on Children’s Gardening Week and we hope that you enjoyed participating in that in whatever way you were able. This month we continue with a gardening theme (well, it is still Spring after all) as we mark Growing for Wellbeing Week which runs from 1st – 7th June.

As long ago as 1948, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised that a person’s health is much more than just ‘not being ill’; they defined it as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Physical and mental wellbeing is a human right, allowing and enabling a person to live their life without limitation or restriction. Over the years, there have been different definitions of wellbeing but it now generally includes the presence of positive beliefs about oneself such as high self-esteem, good health, positive emotions such as happiness, a sustainable and sufficient quality of life, and a sense of community and contribution.

Now more than ever, we need to have positive things in our lives that we can do at home, safely, to mitigate the negative effects on mental health that the coronavirus is having and replace them with more positive, beneficial things.

Gardening can go a long way to achieve this and help general wellbeing by improving people’s:

  • confidence (people feel great when they grow things)
  • cardiovascular health (gardening is good exercise)
  • immune system (increasing vitamin D levels)
  • diet (eating freshly-picked fruit and vegetables)
  • prospects (gaining new knowledge and applying new skills)

The Growing for Wellbeing Week was originally set up by gardening and wellbeing therapy organisation, Life at No.27, with the aim of being a “celebration of the magic that growing your own produce can do for your wellbeing, both physically and mentally”.

Their tag line is, “It’s not what you grow, it’s how YOU grow” with the emphasis clearly on the “YOU” part.
The NHS and education systems have been under enormous pressure even before the pandemic to meet the needs of children and adults with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or complex mental health needs.

Often, these individuals can slip through the net and end up being disengaged from school, their family, friends and wider social networks resulting in a devastating effect on their lives. Becoming engaged and interested in new skills, even for a short time, can start to reverse any decline and get people back onto a more stable footing.

What can you do to mark Growing for Wellbeing Week?

Obviously, the first thing you can do is get outside and try to grow something – you could do this as a nursery if your setting is open, or encourage children to take part as a family if not. We’ve listed below some easy things that children can grow either in a small patch of garden or many vegetables can be grown easily in pots.

Think about:

  • Tomatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Sunflowers
  • Salad leaves
  • Nasturtiums (edible flowers)
  • Cress and mustard
  • Potatoes
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Radishes

Pumpkins are great for children because you can also run a competition which you can pick up again come Halloween. You can have different categories so that it isn’t about creating a ‘perfect pumpkin’. Think about things such as:

  • Largest pumpkin
  • Smallest pumpkin
  • Ugliest pumpkin
  • Most colourful pumpkin
  • Pumpkin that looks like something else

Nasturtiums are fun because they’re edible and you can use them to decorate cakes. Radishes will grow almost anywhere, fast; cress can be grown on some blotting or kitchen paper so doesn’t need soil, and salad leaves can be harvested within a short space of time.

Tips and tricks for getting the best wellbeing result

  • Engage children in the whole growing process: digging, planting from seed, watering, weeding, harvesting and finally eating. That way, they’ll get the most out of seeing their effort being rewarded and get the best pleasure and most confidence.
  • Be prepared to ‘help’ a little – you may need to go out pick a few slugs off your plants if the little ones are worried about this.
  • Show off their work if they want to. You can do this by having a harvest festival in the autumn, or just asking them to bring in photos to create a display in your setting.
  • Make time for the activity either as a setting or a family – working together on things will build teamwork, help children develop social skills and strengthen family bonds.
  • Encourage other learning opportunities such as keeping a diary or photo log as you go, cooking with the food grown, or even using their own potatoes for potato prints. It all helps to make children feel that their efforts have a purpose and have been worthwhile.
  • If it all goes wrong, teach the lesson of resilience and try again.
  • Even the great Monty Don has crops that don’t perform sometimes so don’t get disheartened, see it as a learning curve and have another go...or should that so be... another grow?!

Offers, competitions and resources

On the Growing for Wellbeing website, they have lots of resources such as free activity resource packs for different situations so everyone can get involved. You can email enquiries@lifeatno27.com too. They also run some competitions to help engage children and create a little buzz of excitement too.

If you’d like to have a more hands-on, teacher-guided experience, they also offer school visits and workshops, which are especially valuable to children who might be struggling with mental health illnesses, difficult home situations, anxiety and low confidence so you might think about these for when lockdowns are lifted fully.

You can also help raise awareness of the importance of supporting children and adult’s mental health during the week by adding the dates to your calendars and publicising it on your social media channels using #GYOforWellbeing.

And remember, “it’s not what you grow but how YOU grow” that’s important. You are not entering the local horticultural show (unless you want to!) but helping the children in your care develop themselves as people, whilst having fun in the garden and hopefully growing something edible or floral on the way!

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