(BPT) - As a parent, you probably spend a lot of time trying to keep your kids clean and healthy, but sometimes a little dirt is just what the doctor ordered.
Research shows a direct link between children’s current and future health and their participation in gardening. In fact, kids who garden are more likely to stick with the hobby as adults, have a higher likelihood of excelling in group work and are typically more inclined to eat healthful fruits and vegetables when given the option, according to a compilation of research summarized by the Children and Nature Network.
School garden programs
While some children develop a green thumb at home, research by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program indicates a growing number of kids are learning about gardening in school — a tactic that’s proving to be a popular, effective way of teaching children important life and nutritional skills.
A survey by Tractor Supply Company, which sponsors the “Dig It” school garden program, found 75 percent of polled adults believe hands-on learning is more effective than memorization and 97 percent believe hands-on activities help kids develop a more positive outlook on learning.
Starting a program
If you’re a parent or teacher whose elementary school doesn’t yet have a gardening program, Tractor Supply offers some tips on how to get one started:
1. Grow support
Successful gardening programs require collaboration from school administrators, teachers and parents, as well as support from the community. Start by including all stakeholders in the conversation. Express the value of a school gardening program, share information about success stories in other schools, and look for sponsorship opportunities from the corporate community. For example, Tractor Supply’s “Dig It” program, designed for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, is available for schools in California, Pennsylvania and Utah this year.
The program, which launched last year in Tennessee and New York, provided 88 schools with an enriched, hands-on curriculum and $500 grants to start or sustain a school garden program. More than 17,000 students were involved in the program. Upon completion, each student received a kid-friendly garden tool set and Master Gardener Certificate. To learn more or apply for a 2016–17 grant, teachers in qualified states can visit https://form.jotform.com/62155743106148.
2. Choose a location
Whether your school has a large plot of land or just a sunny windowsill, it’s always possible to grow a garden. With the help of things like raised planter beds and container gardens, almost anything—including a section of parking lot, an unused play area, even a rooftop—can be transformed into a viable, healthy space for plants to thrive. When selecting a location, consider spots that receive at least six hours of ample sun per day, can be easily watered, and can be protected from rodents or deer. Most importantly, though, remember to choose an area that’s safe and easy for children to access.
3. Keep kid-friendly design in mind
In addition to finding a safe and accessible location for your school’s garden, it’s also important to create an atmosphere that’s appealing to youngsters. Start by getting students involved in the design process. If you’ll be using raised beds, ask children for their input on the materials and colors; conduct a poll to determine what vegetables and/or flowers they would like to grow; and plan for decorative touches, such as plant markers or garden stepping stones that students can create on their own or in art classes.
4. Seek and use guidance
Tractor Supply’s Know How Central offers a wealth of information about gardening. You can also find guidance and assistance—such as soil testing services—from local cooperative extensions. Reach out to parents or teachers who are home gardeners to help coach kids through the process of growing and harvesting crops.
“Getting kids outside the traditional classroom setting can be a wonderful, fun way to help them learn important skills and lessons,” said Lisa White, Director of Store Marketing at Tractor Supply. “The value of school gardening programs has been proven repeatedly through programs like Dig It, and the great thing is it’s never too late to begin one at your school.”