The significance of gardening in the early years goes beyond mere activity; it shapes lifelong habits and attitudes towards nutrition, well-being, and environmental stewardship. Introducing children to gardening, with its focus on cultivating fruits and vegetables, offers a gateway to nurturing health-conscious behaviours. 

In today's environment, where processed foods dominate the market, gardening stands as a counterbalance, imparting vital lessons on healthy eating from an early age. By actively participating in growing produce, children establish a profound connection with their food, fostering autonomy in dietary choices and a genuine appreciation for nutritious options 

This hands-on approach not only promotes healthier eating habits but also instils a lifelong understanding of the origins of food, its environmental impact, and its role in maintaining a healthy balanced diet. 

Physical And Mental Well-Being

Gardening offers a holistic approach to support children's physical and mental well-being. Gardening can be a very physical activity with planting, weeding, and tending to the garden contributing to general activity levels, improved motor skills, coordination, and overall physical health. 

The very nature of gardening means that children can spend more time outside. Exposing children to sunlight promotes the synthesis of vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and mood. With 16% of children in the UK estimated to have a vitamin D deficiency, almost 20% of children in the UK having vitamin D levels lower than the recommended amount, and 1 in 6 adults in the UK having low levels of vitamin D, family time outside in a garden could be a bone-boosting, mood boosting family activity. 

A colourful garden, particularly the colour green can have a calming effect on anxiety and an uplifting effect on our mood. Exposure to the colour green in nature has been associated with a reduction in blood pressure and a decrease in anxiety.  

Research has shown that greenery, including indoor plants and outdoor green spaces, can have a positive impact on mental well-being. This calming influence is believed to stem from the fact that green is associated with nature and the natural world, which tends to evoke feelings of tranquillity and safety.   

This is documented in the Biophilia hypothesis, proposed by biologist E.O. Wilson. This suggests that humans have an innate connection with nature. Evolutionarily, humans have spent a significant portion of their history in natural environments. As a result, exposure to natural elements, including the colour green, may trigger positive responses in the brain, promoting relaxation and well-being. If you consider how far removed many of us have become from the natural environment, this theory could go some way to explaining our increased unease and anxiety. 

Gut Health And Gardening 

There are many benefits gardening brings to children’s gut health: - 

  1. Enhanced nutritional quality of the produce eaten provides more fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which supports digestive health 
  2. Certain fruits and vegetables contain prebiotic fibres that serve as fuel for beneficial gut bacteria 
  3. When children play outdoors and get their hands dirty, they come into contact with diverse microorganisms present in soil. Exposure to these beneficial microbes can have a positive impact on the development of their immune systems and gut microbiota. 
  4. In particular, exposure to a variety of environmental microbes found in soil, can contribute to a more diverse and resilient gut microbiota. A diverse microbiota is associated with better overall health and a reduced risk of certain diseases. 
  5. Increased movement by being outdoors increases levels of physical activity which is associated with a more diverse gut microbiota 

Educational And Development Aid 

  1. Enhances Motor skills - activities like digging, planting seeds, and watering plants require fine and gross motor skills, aiding in the development of coordination and muscle strength in children. 
  2. Teaches responsibility - gardening instils a sense of responsibility in children as they care for plants, water them regularly, and ensure they receive proper sunlight, fostering important life skills. 
  3. Improves concentration - gardening requires focus and attention to detail, which can help improve children's concentration and cognitive abilities. 
  4. Boosts self-esteem - successfully growing plants and witnessing their progress can boost children's self-esteem and sense of accomplishment, fostering a positive self-image 

Time outdoors should, as much as possible be a key feature in childhood yet many children are not as ‘outdoorsy’ as previous generations. We have of course, many technological advancements to tempt children onto devices but nothing can compare to the multiple health benefits of time spent outdoors. 

We need this generation of children to understand the connectiveness of our food landscape, our responsibility as consumers and the impact on the wider environment as we surely cannot sustain the levels of food production and food waste we currently have? Gardening could combine both physical and mental health boosting activities and well-being whilst having a positive impact on the natural world and wider environmental benefits.  

About the author:

Louise is an Early Years Nutrition Consultant and focuses on health and nutrition. Louise also hosts a radio show ‘Food For Thought’ on Teacher Hug Radio.

    About the author:

    Louise is an Early Years Nutrition Consultant and focuses on health and nutrition. Louise also hosts a radio show ‘Food For Thought’ on Teacher Hug Radio.

      About the author:

      Louise is an Early Years Nutrition Consultant and focuses on health and nutrition. Louise also hosts a radio show ‘Food For Thought’ on Teacher Hug Radio.

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