The Life-Changing Benefits of Gardening with Kids & Teens

Growing food with your whole family is one of the most rewarding activities out there. Whether you start with a plastic cup and a radish seed, a few herbs on the windowsill, some containers of lettuce and tomatoes on the porch, a shared plot in a community garden, or go whole hog on a backyard farm even Martha would be proud of, gardening together is an investment of time and resources that pays dividends long after the last surplus zucchini is pawned off on the neighbors. 

The benefits run the gamut: educational, nutritional, financial, and emotional. It’s near impossible to read the following without planning a trip to the garden center!

Educational

When you garden together, not only do you spend quality time in nature getting messy (always a good idea in our books), you also get to share valuable lessons with your young gardeners. From fostering the fascination in the magic of how a seed can become a towering plant to the intricacies of seasonal light and temperature shifts, there’s no limit to the learning that can happen in a garden.

Older farmers-in-training can learn the names of plant anatomy, understand the water cycle, and practice the scientific method to develop and test hypotheses destined to earn a science fair ribbon. And once you bring the fruits of your labor into the kitchen, a whole new world of science opens up! Opportunities also abound for math lessons—like deciding how many plants are needed to fill (but not overflow) a raised bed, or weighing and tracking the amount of harvested fruits and vegetables throughout the season.

For really young aspiring gardeners, some of the loftier lessons might be a little beyond their grasp, but the garden still has much to offer. For example, you could share how cool it is that, after the first rush of prepping a garden and planting some seeds or starts, all those young plants need is sunlight, water, and time—an incredible reminder of how we can all grow when we take care of our needs. Kids of all ages can begin to identify the things that are most important to them and understand the importance of self-care and self-kindness.

Nutritional

Growing edible plants might even get your kids to try new foods and eat more fruits and vegetables! Research shows that kids are five times more likely to eat vegetables that they have grown themselves. What parent doesn’t want to expand food tastes and foster a sense of discovery in their youngsters?!

Financial

Yes, we know it’s possible to spend a LOT of money on fancy raised bed kits and mature Meyer lemon trees and that really adorable pair of gardening overalls… but honestly, gardening can be incredibly affordable if you choose the right plants and the right methods. With a savvy gameplan (and a decision to unsubscribe from some email newsletters selling the really fancy stuff) it’s totally possible to save a few bucks on produce that tastes WAY better than what you can find in most grocery stores. 

For even more learning opportunities, set a budget for your garden project and get kids involved with spending that money wisely. Financial literacy isn’t taught in most schools, so why not bring it home? For a vegetable garden on a budget, start slow and focus on plants that produce a LOT of, well, produce—that means more edible bounty from fewer plants, and less money up front. Zucchini plants, cherry tomatoes, and perennial herbs like chives and rosemary are great places to start. 

You can also research ways to make raised beds out of reclaimed or cheap materials like cinder blocks, rocks, and logs, and embrace the joy of borrowing from your community. Many libraries offer tool lending, and you can search on Facebook for a local “Buy Nothing” group where people in your area help each other out by giving or lending items in need.

Emotional

Gardening develops a real connection with the natural world, and a whole host of other emotional perks. Tending a garden over time requires patience (haven’t we all wished for a time machine to speed up the waiting between planting and harvest?!), care, commitment, and teamwork. Giving a kid a plot of dirt to “own”—letting them decide what to plant and giving them the opportunity to tend it themselves—fosters a real pride of ownership and independence. 

Perhaps best of all, gardening offers camaraderie with each other and with nature, doing something that feels like play but offers something beautiful and delicious as a reward for your time and love. Ready to get started? Here are some tips for planting herbs—a perfect kid project for summer.

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