10 Reasons Why Gardening is the Ultimate Outdoor Family Activity

By Nicolette Sowder | Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture

“Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.” – Alfred Austin

My daughter and I love being out in nature together. We’ve done everything from making mud pies and tracking critters to sledding and decorating a holiday tree for the birds. Still there’s one activity that remains in a class of its own for our family – growing our own food. Yes, I may be biased, but let me explain why I feel gardening with your children sets the gold standard as the ultimate outdoor family activity.

1. It’s Mind-Blowing
Gardening is unique in that it’s directly tied to our everyday need to stay nourished and healthy. Plus, there aren’t too many activities right outside our back door that have the power to induce a paradigm shift. Gardening does. Most kids think food comes from the grocery store; our ten and twelve year old neighbors didn’t know that beans came in pods and had never heard of a turnip. The knowledge gained from gardening is really a game changer for kids, and can open them up to a world of questions.

2. Theory of Everything
Gardening isn’t just about one thing, it’s about fifty. We learn to be gentle while planting, determined when weeding, and thankful when harvesting. Then there’s the science of soil, compost, seasons and companion planting – and that’s just off the top of my head! From math to history, I urge you to think of one subject that can’t be explored through the garden’s green lens.

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“I could have sworn I planted something right about here…” Image via Jessica Lucia.

3. They’ll Fail – Which is a Good Thing
When you fail at gardening, it’s a big deal. It’s not as simple as falling and getting back up. When the peppers don’t grow, it means that in most cases you have to wait an entire year to try again! I remember how sad it was when we pulled our Brussels sprouts too soon (we didn’t realize how long they take to form). However, this notion challenges our culture of instant gratification, and teaches our children the art of taking the long view.

4. Let’s Turnip the Beet
Really, this should be number one. I’m not sure if there is anything more fun than playing in the dirt as a family. Almost since my daughter was born, we’ve been making beautiful messes and bonding together in the garden. It should be a birthright to experience the bliss that accompanies pulling carrots up from the ground, eating strawberries off the vine or peeling away a ground cherry’s papery husk.

5. They’ll Be Healthier
In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents. Besides helping our kids become more active, gardening increases their comfort level and knowledge of healthy foods. But wait – there’s more. Researchers have linked gardening to everything from stress relief and reduced risk of stroke, to brain health and immune regulation. You can dig deeper into gardening’s many health benefits here.

A troupe of kids in Kubota Garden, Seattle, WA. Image via Seattle Municipal Archives.

A troop of kids in Kubota Garden, Seattle, WA. Image via Seattle Municipal Archives.

6. No Child Left Indoors
For the most part, gardening is an activity that is not limited by background or socioeconomic condition. Nature-based organizations work hard at being inclusive and flexible. Many times volunteer efforts and grants make it possible for these nonprofits to offer free or low-cost programming. And, from sensory gardens to raised beds, parents of children with disabilities can almost always find a program or activity specifically designed for their kids.

7. Is This Love That I’m Feelin’?
Biophilia
 is the idea that there’s an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. Nothing quite awakens this bond like caring for something that will later nourish you. By giving our children a stake in the garden, we’re helping to endear and connect them to an entire ecosystem. It’s really not a huge leap for them to extend that compassion, awareness and, dare I say, love to the planet as a whole.

8. Harvesting Strength
Bullying, and the diminished sense of worth that often comes with it, is a real issue for so many young people these days. Gardening is about resiliency and survival. By providing for themselves, even in the smallest way, our children develop a quiet power. And on some level, when kids help a seed fulfill its purpose, they realize that same potential in their own lives. Also, gardens are conducive to attracting and building community. When kids are at their most vulnerable, they can seek refuge and reconnect in these wild spaces.

Simple things, like the flower of a squash, can hold great artistic beauty. Image via Sargan.

Simple things, like the flower of a squash, can hold great artistic beauty. Image via Sargan.

9. For Art’s Sake
Have you ever seen your own reflection in a drop of morning dew resting on a squash’s yellow flower? Well, in the garden you just might. Participating in the creation of nature’s beauty is an incredible experience. Our children can cultivate their own living canvases and carry that artistic vision with them. Some of the greatest poetry, art and music of our time has been born out of hours spent in the garden. With them, our children can the have access to that same inspiration.

10. It Grows
Gardens evolve with their caretakers. They are reflections of our thoughts, dreams and personalities. And the longer you tend to one, the more intertwined it becomes with your life. Food is not the only thing maturing in the garden. A child also grows while tending that precious soil. Just ask my eighty-six year old grandmother, who still lives by Margaret Atwood’s timeless words, “In Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

So, have I convinced you yet?

(Really, though, I’m open minded, and would love to hear what your family’s favorite outdoor activity is! I’m all ears – of corn, that is).

Featured Image: A happy family enjoys a day of gardening. Image via PowerHouse Growers.

About The Author

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I have always been a Wilder Child, making mud pies and talking to trees. This site is inspired by those experiences, and the idea that our children don't see nature as something that is separate from them! As I raise my own family, I will be sharing our nature-inspired art, activities and outdoor adventures. Come walk along side us on the path to a Wilder, more connected life.