Plant Care

An Occupational Therapist Explains the Benefits of Gardening With Kids

An adult and child are gardening together.

Like everything in 2020, the forthcoming school year has been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While some school districts are maintaining some semblance of “normal” by returning to in-person classes, many others are sticking to virtual learning through 2021. 

If your household falls into the latter camp, chances are you’re looking for educational and fun activities to supplement virtual learning and keep your kids entertained Monday through Friday. This is where gardening and plant care come in. 

“I cannot stress enough how much a young child can gain from gardening projects and plant care,” Candace Peterson, pediatric occupational therapist and founder of Nurture OT, tells Bloomscape. “Sensory, motor, cognitive, social, emotional development, and daily living skills are all fostered through this type of activity.” 

With that in mind, we invite you to pick up a child-friendly plant and teach your little ones the basics this school year. Below, find everything you need to know about gardening projects for kids aged three-plus, according to an occupational therapist. 

What Your Child Can Learn from Plant Care

  1. Sensory development. “Sensory development is so important for little ones and engaging with nature is one of the best possible ways to encourage this,” explains Peterson. “Exploration of the dirt, leaves, flowers, stems, and roots provides an incredible amount of tactile input for a child’s body.” 
  2. Motor skills. “A child can also gain a variety of motor skills and strengthen their muscles from gardening,” she notes. “Using two hands as a team (known as bilateral coordination), scooping dirt for hand strength and improved grasp, squatting down and standing back up, lifting and carrying plants, dirt, or tools, and watering a plant all contribute to this development.”
  3. Social, emotional, and cognitive skills. “These skills are all promoted by interacting with others while gardening or caring for a plant, which can include working as a team, following directions, sequencing steps, and asking for or providing help,” she explains. “How cool is it when our children want to share learning experiences with us? Hearing, ‘Look how tall my plant is growing!’ is priceless.” 
A child takes a cell phone photo of a pink flower they have planted in a garden bed.

How to Teach Your Kids About Plants 

Of course, there are countless garden ideas for kids you can use to teach them about plant care. You can let them plant their own “garden” outside, help them plant a small flower for their windowsill to look after, help them plant a variety of seeds in an empty egg carton, or teach them the art of propagation with the assistance of Plant Mom. 

Regardless of your chosen garden activity, Peterson recommends creating step-by-step stations that can guide your child through different aspects of gardening. “Create side-by-side stations and model each gardening task for them until they catch on,” she instructs. “You can also create a visual schedule that has picture examples of each step that they can reference through the activity. Children ages three to four can typically follow two-to-three step directions.” Of course, pick up child-friendly gardening tools before engaging in this activity. 

No matter what your approach, “always respect a child’s comfort level when engaging with the plants,” she adds. “Sometimes sensory experiences are new and overwhelming, but over time, they usually become more comfortable!” 

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