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Ready, Set... Grow! Tips for Gardening With Your Children in Celebration of World Health Day

Gardening is an engaging way to teach a child about healthy lifestyles and encompasses skills that are far reaching.

Dora Garcia walks us through how to create a simple garden with the theme of spaghetti ingredients.

April 7 is World Health Day to promote physical, mental and emotional health for all people across the world.

By Ashley Antle

If there is one thing kids know, it’s how to get dirty. So why not let them play in the dirt with purpose and create a home garden where they can experiment with growing their own food or flowers.

Experts say gardening positively impacts everything from food choices to physical fitness and even mood, and kids can reap these benefits, too.

“Gardening saved my brain,” said Dora Garcia, community health program coordinator at The Center for Children’s Health, led by Cook Children’s. “I had always been curious about growing my own food, but really got into it when I was doing a really stressful job. Being outside and digging in the dirt helped alleviate my stress and helped me relax.” Gardening (1)

Garcia believes in the benefits of gardening so much so that she turned her stress-release activity into her day job and heads the gardening program for The Center for Children’s Health.

In partnership with the Johnson County Alliance for Healthy Kids and the Healthy Children Coalition for Parker County, Garcia advises schools in Johnson and Parker Counties on how to incorporate gardening into daily school and learning activities. The oldest coalition school garden is now seven years old, surpassing the average school garden life span of two years. 

Reap What You Sow

“Gardening is a hands-on way for kids to experience growing their own food,” Garcia said. “Research has shown that children who grow their own food are more apt to try different fruits and vegetables. They learn where food comes from and learn responsibility as they water and tend to the garden and watch their food grow.” 

Gardening also teaches patience and perseverance, as not everything planted will produce. Garcia says learning what works and what doesn’t is a part of the process and, like in life, working hard to overcome a challenge reaps reward.

Other benefits of gardening with your child include:

●     Decreased screen time and increased physical activity and exposure to mood-boosting sunshine.

●     Family bonding and team building as you work together to dig, plant, grow and harvest.

●     Interactive opportunities to explore and learn science and math concepts related to gardening.

●     Expands creativity and curiosity as kids design and build a green space where they can relax, read a book and explore. 

Bloom Where You're Planted

Growing your own garden doesn’t have to be hard, expensive, or take up too much space. It doesn’t even have to be in the ground. Gardens can be grown in pots, small outdoor beds or even bags. Garcia says to keep it simple and start small. Grow herbs or microgreens in a pot, or turn a galvanized tub into a small vegetable garden. Gardening (2)

If you prefer sowing flowers over food, use the thriller/filler/spiller rule for planting an eye-catching flower pot. Choose one focal plant as your “thriller” to add height and drama. Pair with it “filler” flowers that are round or mounding to fill in the space around the thriller. To finish off the look, add a “spiller,” or trailing plant to soften the edges of the container.

When combining plants in containers, whether food or flowers, be sure to pair them according to their light and watering needs. In other words, don’t put shade-loving flowers like impatiens with full-sun plants like hibiscus, or moisture-loving herbs like basil with drought-tolerant plants like rosemary. To learn more, turn to resources such as Texas A&M Agrilife Extension and local plant nurseries that can point you in the right direction on what to plant and how to care for your garden.

Porch ponds can add tranquility to a small outdoor space. Use a galvanized tub or water-tight container to house water plants and a small filter/fountain combination to circulate water. Adding mosquito fish to your pond is an effective and environmentally friendly way to control mosquitos, and your kids will love the aquatic life.

Above all, let your kids get their hands dirty and have fun with your garden, be it big or small. Together, you’ll harvest far more benefits than just healthy food and beautiful blooms.

Healthy Lifestyles - Center for Children's Health led by Cook Children's

The stigma of a child's weight can pose many consequences impacting their psychological and physical health, including an increase in being bullied, a vulnerability to depression, anxiety and substance abuse, as well as social isolation and adverse academic outcomes. Denton Kids

Children who are overweight or obese have a greater risk of chronic disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, breathing problems and joint problems. Child obesity is also associated with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, bullying and lower self-reported quality of life.1 Children who are underweight may have undernutrition or underlying medical problems. A child’s underweight status may also indicate one or more of these contributing factors: stress or neglect at home, food insecurity (lack of reliable access to enough nutritional and affordable food), poverty, chronic disease, developmental disorders, or mental illness.1

Nearly 2 in 5 children ages 10–17 in the eight-county service area (an estimated 223,800) do not have a normal body weight.2 These children are less likely than children with a normal BMI to practice key healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as eating the recommended amount of healthy foods, getting the recommended amount of daily physical activity, or limiting daily screen time on most days. These children are also more likely to miss having family meals on most days.1