Australia is one of the few developed countries where even in metropolitan cities, you still have easy access to plenty of nature and farms. So much expectation is placed on our children since the early years to make them excel academically.
It can be tempting to dismiss what some consider as the ‘new age theories’ that having kids be connected to nature during their early years has an impact on their long-term development. Gardening and horticultural therapy used to be an activity of the elderly to help them breathe in fresh air and kill time.
However, more and more studies indicate that horticultural therapy can be powerful in nurturing the developing young minds, especially for those who suffer from mental or behavioral disorders.
Gardening provides cognitive and physical benefits that go way beyond peaceful environment.
General benefits for children
Kids learn best by doing. Taking care of a living thing – plants, fruits, vegetables, etc. – at a young age helps instill a greater sense of responsibility (and rewards from the results). Some educators and scientists argue that gardening and farming also can improve creativity as it prompts kids to be more curious and seek discovery by engaging all of their senses and introducing them to science in an organic, fun way.
In addition, understanding where their food comes from and being exposed to healthier food when they are younger can help them start and maintain a healthy diet. Thus, studies have shown that those who have a garden tend to have less body mass index. Gardening also creates opportunities for kids to work collaboratively with other children and adults as a team.
Gardening also helps with motor skill development as they dig and pull weeds. Most obviously, getting as much natural Vitamin D as possible is a good enough reason to explore gardening as a family activity.
Benefits for children on the spectrum of autism
According to ScienceDirect’s preventive medicine report, “there is mounting evidence that decrease in contact with nature results in a number of health and behavioural problems, especially for children…”
Especially for children with autism, gardening is a great and non-confrontational activity to improve their social skills. They often find repetitive tasks comforting and being out in the open with nature can help build their confidence by allowing them to communicate with peaceful nature.
Taking care of plants can help improve concentration and memory skills. A person with autism can find great joy planting things and watching them grow. Horticulture can be a very healthy mental and physical habit for them (safe place).
ASD children often feel frustrated and overwhelmed from sensory overload so calming garden will help soothe them and assist them in addressing/managing their senses in a meditative environment.
Recent research has shown that therapeutic gardens are especially helpful in alleviating the tensions, frustrations and challenges of living every day with the symptoms of ASD.
How to get started
Depending on your surroundings and needs, the way you plant and nurture could vary. It is no easy feat but worthy effort.
You could create your own gardens at home or locate community gardens you can rent and share with your neighbors. There are horticultural therapy training programs as well as online horticulture courses for those who want to learn more in-depth.
There is no right way to do it. And remember, this is supposed to be a team work and fun! Allow yourself to travel back to your childhood and find that curiosity about science and nature.