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Gardening with Grandkids: Playing in the Dirt is Fun – and Healthy, Too

There’s no question that playing in the dirt tops the list of fun for kids, particularly young children, despite the protests of many well-intended grandparents. If you happen to be one of those worried grandparents, you can put your fears aside.

As it turns out, dirt is actually beneficial to the long-term health of kids, according to a Northwestern University article by Clare Milliken, “Germs at four, less inflammation at forty.” Studies have found that early exposure to certain germs, like those found in dirt, actually helps kids’ immune systems learn to regulate inflammation better. In turn, this exposure reduces kids’ risk for many diseases throughout their lives, which makes a family garden the perfect opportunity to build your grandkids’ immune systems. As well, gardening offers many other benefits to kids and families.

Through gardening, kids learn to be responsible by caring for their own plants. It’s also a great way to help kids learn about and develop an appreciation for science. Another health benefit is that gardening encourages healthier eating. Not to mention, it’s an excellent activity for bonding with grandkids.

“Grandparents tend to have experience with growing their own food and preparing it for themselves, whereas a lot of younger kids don’t have that experience. So grandparents can pass along that knowledge so we don’t lose it – getting your hands in the soil and then taking it in the kitchen to prepare your own food,” Yvonne Dubielak, executive director of Toledo Grows, said.

So gather up your grandkids and gardening supplies, head outdoors and get ready for some dirt-filled fun.

Getting started

First, decide where to plant your garden. Then select a small space in your plot  for your grandchild to have their own garden, too. This will help build enthusiasm for the garden and encourage them to take ownership and responsibility for it. Having their own garden can be exciting and rewarding for kids because they know that they, alone (or with minimal help), grew those little seeds into a marvelous plant.

Next, decide what to plant. For young children, consider fast-growing plants they are familiar with. Little kids also love plants that are colorful or have strong scents.

If your grandkids are older, let them choose what they want to grow. But keep in mind your grandchild’s personality. If they tend to be impatient, suggest plants that are easy to care for and grow quickly.

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As you proceed with planning and preparation, include your grandchild as much as possible. Remember, this stage is as much fun for kids as it is for grandparents and helps build kids’ enthusiasm. Also, let your grandkids help you draw up the garden plan. If they’re old enough, they can also create their own shopping list.

“Sometimes, too, grandparents have limited mobility, so getting out there with the grandkids who can bend over a little easier is helpful,” Dubielak said.

When you go shopping for the supplies, take your grandkids along and let them pick out their own seeds and gardening tools. For the safety of young children, look for kids’ gardening tools made of durable plastic.

Planting your garden

When you begin planting, show how to plant the seeds and space them apart correctly. Then have your grandchild water the seeds as directed.  To help your grandchild take responsibility for his or her own garden, put a daily gardening task list on the refrigerator.

Also, to help your grandchild maintain enthusiasm, suggest keeping a garden log. Kids can have fun recording the date of plantings, each day’s gardening activities, when each plant sprouts, the amount of growth of the plants and the harvesting.

Finally, after harvesting, have your grandchild help you prepare and/or cook the vegetables to help them develop a life-long love for fresh, healthy veggies.

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