People-plant relationships, what’s up with that? Do plants really affect humans?
I wrote this genius article for a certain gardening magazine and was rejected with a stinging reply. Now that I’ve dusted myself off and gotten over the looking-downiness of their rejection, I decided to post it here so people can enjoy the wonderfulness of this great information. 🙂 What do you think?
Could Gardening Change the World?
Those of us who garden know gardening has untold benefits, but what about people who have never tried it? How can we teach them gardening is the great life changer it is? I saw a report on ABC News about the benefits of gardening with prisoners. The prisoners shared feeling a sense of peace in the garden that gave them a short respite from the harsh prison environment. They were able to reconnect with their feelings in the garden as they connected with the natural world. The prisoners also commented on connecting spiritually with the garden. Most prisons with garden programs report a return rate in the single digits, much lower than the national average. Some even state that not one of their garden graduates returned. So if someone who has repeatedly committed crimes is changed in a way that they no longer do, our world is a better place because of gardening. As I listened to this amazing report of how gardening was making the world a better place through rehabilitating prisoners, I thought about my kids. I know that behaviors that lead to prison time can begin as behavioral disorders in children. I was curious if introducing children to the garden could deter some of them from a life time of poor choices that have the potential of leading to crime, and incarceration.
I have been a family child care provider for over 19 years. What can gardening do for children with behavioral disorders? After some study into the benefits of gardening, I discovered many benefits of which I had not previously been aware. I was stunned. According to kidsgardening.org, gardening significantly increases science achievement scores in students, social skills, behavior, attitudes about the environment, and appreciation for nature. Gardening also improves life skills, interest in eating fruits and vegetables, and nutrition knowledge. In addition, gardening contributes to communication of knowledge and emotions, and has a positive impact on student achievement and behavior. So gardening with my kids could totally change their paths in life. It could help them be smarter, get better grades, build better relationships, and take care of their bodies and this earth in a more effective way?
What behavioral disorders effect children? There are many, and the symptoms include lack of patience, lack of concentration, poor impulse control, poor problem solving skills, and the inability to be calm or to calm themselves or relax. In addition, there are many that cause explosive behaviors, mood swings, stealing, lying, and destroying property. So, if working in the garden can help kids feel appreciation and respect for plants and the environment, and it can help them focus as well as relax and feel peaceful and be able to delay gratification for some time, could gardening be an answer to problems that we have with children and managing their behavior? Many behavioral disorders result in low self-esteem and self-worth which can cause the behaviors to repeat themselves and increase in severity. If gardening can increase one’s self-esteem, couldn’t it stop the downward cycle in a person’s life that comes from behavioral disorders? These behaviors if not properly dealt with can lead to impulses in adulthood that cause criminal behaviors. Could something as simple and pure as working in the garden be an answer for making the world a better place? We could be on to something. If we can improve social skills and change attitudes and behaviors with this simple activity, it is certainly worth some time and effort to find out. Focusing on something positive is a great way to curb impulses for negative behavior as well. I know when I introduce new toys to the kids at my daycare, they are focused and engaged with those toys, and many negative behaviors are decreased during that time.
I dug a little deeper into the subject of garden benefits for children and I found that children learn much from growing things according to betterhealth.gov. They learn nutrition, creativity, cooperation, physical activity, reasoning, discovery, love of nature, self-confidence, understanding, and responsibility. I don’t know about you, but I think that those are some pretty awesome benefits for making this world a better place. I know that the problems I see us facing today have a lot to do with the lack of responsibility that people take for their own actions. Studies show that good nutrition can help manage behavior as well. Some people believe that some mental illnesses are caused by nutrition deficiencies of one kind or another. If this is the case, gardening can help correct that as well. And children who grow their own food are more aware of the nutritional value of foods and are more likely to eat the things they need to have a well-rounded nutritional intake.
As I was learning about these mental and physical health benefits, I was just beginning to garden with my kids. I was learning the skills I needed to grow sustainably with my group of young children in a chemical free garden environment. Teaching them the skills for a lifetime of growing practices that could not only help them feed themselves and their families, but heal our earth. I have been learning and teaching my kids that growing food chemical free is important for our world, but just as important for the kids who are working with their hands in the soil here and eating the produce that we grow. If we were spraying chemicals on everything, the kids would be exposed to the dangers of those things and could be even more at risk than if we weren’t gardening at all.
My kids LOVE being in the garden. “Gardening is funner than video games”, “the garden is pretty and smells good”, and “the garden is awesome” are some of the things I have heard the kids say about being in the garden. I have one child who, every time we head outside to play, asks me if he can go in the garden. Every day I tell him he can go in the garden whenever he wants to. And then every day he walks through the rows of the garden with his face toward the sky and his arms out, lightly brushing against the plants as he goes by. Then he sighs a big heavy sigh and runs off to play. You can’t tell me he is not having a reaction in that magical place.
I have learned there is an amazing sense of peace for me in the garden as I struggle with an anxiety disorder myself. I want to share that feeling and teach others how to experience it themselves. The garden calms me, it soothes me, and it makes me feel part of something bigger and more important than myself. It brings me close to nature and give me exercise and sunlight that I need for good physical and mental health. The garden gives me an appreciation for nature and all the things God has created. It bring me closer to Him. It distracts me from my worries and problems in a very productive way. My anxiety level has decreased exponentially since I started learning to grow food. I want to give that experience to my children because I know it changes their world as well.
There are many studies about the effects of stress and anxiety and the effect the garden has on people’s management of it. Healthyplace.com and stress.com note several. There is a sense of satisfaction to watch something that you planted grow into something you can eat. Fresh air and physical activity reduce stress, and release aggression. The physical activity in the garden helps your mind and body by increasing your fitness and helping to reduce excess weight. Another benefit is the satisfaction of caring for the needs of dependent plant. The plant needs the grower in order to survive. Being needed is an essential element for humans. We need to be needed. Sunlight increases the body’s vitamin D. Fresh air is good for your health. Feeling more removed from daily stresses is increased when we are outdoors in nature. And the garden is a place of great beauty as well. The beauty and amazingness of the art you can create in the garden along with God’s creations are a great stress reducer. Using that gorgeous space for thinking, relaxing, and meditation is a great way to improve mental health. Additional benefits of gardening include increased decision making abilities, self-control, self-esteem, hope for the future and confidence. I know from personal experience gardening does bring calm in this chaotic world. Whose life would not be made better by this? Even the most confident, happy person you know could enjoy more of these feelings. I just can’t see any way gardening could not improve someone’s life. Even if it’s just a small container growing radishes or lettuce, growing something can change your world. And I know reviving this dying art form is one of the most important missions for my life. There are a multitude of ways to garden, things that can be grown, soil mixes, methodologies, opinions, and the list goes on and on, but there is one thing that really matters, and that is getting people to grow SOMETHING. I believe in my heart if we spread this message and get some seeds or plants into the hands of the very young, so they can grow up and lead the world by teaching them to plant something, gardening really can change the world. When God wants something done in this world, He sends a child, and then He waits.