Gardening Helps Kids’ Health: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here today with health tips for kids about gardening.

Gardening is an adventure. Turning the soil, dropping seeds into the dirt, watching plants grow and flowers blossom is awe inspiring and amazing. When fruit pops out of branches and onions and carrots come straight out of the dirt, it really is a miracle. Gardening is healthy for kids because when kids see stuff that is really incredible, kids’ brains are activated and their creativity flourishes.

When you garden you move your body and that’s great for your health. When you garden, you walk and bend and carry things. You dig and rake and pick weeds and fruits and vegetables. When you garden, you breathe fresh air. And you learn a lot.  Even a very experienced gardener will tell you that every year something new happens in their garden, a little puzzle they have to think about and study and solve.

Another great part of gardening is the chance to be imaginative. Kids can invent their own creative gardening project.  There are lots of ways to do it.

You can grow a salad garden, where you plant lettuce and tomatoes and radishes and cucumbers. You can try a pizza garden with basil and oregano and tomatoes. Or how about a sunflower circle where when the sunflowers grow tall you can sit in the middle and read a book in the shade of the brilliant golden flowers. In the fall you can harvest sunflower seeds and feed them to the birds. You can make a leafy green fort by planting string beans at the base of teepee poles. You don’t even need a garden. You can grow things in an old wheelbarrow, or a bucket, a tire, an old sink or even a bathtub!

Gardening is also healthy because it’s unpredictable.  It’s good for all of us, children and adults, to learn how to roll with the changes that life throws our way.

If you decide to plant a garden this year, here’s my prescription for a healthy way to do it:

First, make a plan. Draw your ideas on paper, talk to your parents about your plan and experiment in your mind with visions of your garden.

Second, keep your garden small. In the spring, seeds are tiny and plants are very small. But pretty soon they grow and spread. By July you’re stuck with lots of watering and trimming and tons of weeding.

Third, ask your parents to get you a few special gardening tools of your own. If you are old enough to use clippers, that’s a sharp tool that snips stems and branches, get a pair that are kid-sized so your hand can get around the tool and use it correctly. Every gardener has to have a shovel and a rake, and you might want gloves, though I like the feel of dirt right on my hands. Get a bucket or a basket to carry your tools around and to put your flowers or produce into when it’s time to harvest. 

Fourth, be smart and safe about gardening. Make sure your parents know what you are doing and supervise your work. Don’t eat anything from your garden without asking an adult first. Clean up your tools and your garden when you are done for the day. If you leave dirt on your tools or leave them out in the rain, they’ll be wrecked. If you leave a pile of weeds on your garden soil, some of them will grow back and you’ll have to pull them out all over again. Plus a tidy garden is fun to look at and something you can feel proud of.

Fifth, remember that gardens are like dogs and cats. You have to take care of them every day if you want them to live. Visit your garden and check out how it’s doing. Weed it and water it several times a week. 

Finally, don’t worry if your garden doesn’t turn out just as you planned. In fact, it probably won’t because gardens have minds of their own. Just remember that plants are always growing and changing. You can be a gardener over and over again, for as long as you want and whenever you want.

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.

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