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  • Writer's pictureLaura Savage

Nurturing Gardens. 4 Key Benefits Of Getting Children Out In The Garden

Updated: Jun 30, 2023


Children and parents in the garden

Let's get outside!


Gardens help children's learning and wellbeing to thrive. And now summer is definitely upon us, it's a great time to be considering why we need to make better use of our outdoor spaces and get children out in the garden.


In my previous career in early education, I witnessed first hand the positive impact that the outdoors had on children in terms of their learning, well being and social skills. Children truly thrive outdoors!


In this article, I've broken down some of the key reasons why we as adults should make best use of our gardens and encourage our children to use them.


1. Exposure to Fresh Air

Child smelling flowers in fresh air

Think of your first memory. There's every chance that it was outside. And if not, many of your other memories will be. Why is this? Well it may be down to one simple reason. Oxygen. As human beings, the amount of oxygen we are exposed to impacts our ability to process and retain information. Hence it's likely that you retained that memory because you were

exposed to the increased oxygen that the

outdoors provides.


Conversely when we're indoors, we and our children reuse the same air, meaning the atmosphere contains a greater carbon dioxide content and less oxygen. This may largely contribute to that ill feeling we all get when we've been couped up inside on a rainy day.


child reading in garden

So what's the relevance of this to our children? Well if our brain function is improved outside, children are in theory able to learn with greater success. They are able to retain information from what it is they are reading, listening to or activities they're doing.



With this in mind, it's no wonder that nowadays education settings, particularly in the early years, are making more and more use of learning in the outdoors. But even at home we can make best use of our gardens for our children, as much as our homes will allow for it.



2. Learning Opportunities



So the increased oxygen helps children cognitively in their ability to learn and retain information, but besides this it also provides actual learning opportunities in abundance. Perhaps the most obvious skills that children can learn outside are physical; climbing, running, digging, playing sports, all things that are not necessarily welcome indoors. And then there's the finer physical skills such as using tools, collecting natural objects or sowing seeds.


children learning to grow

But beyond the obvious physical skills, gardens have so many more opportunities for children to learn. For example, they can learn how a plant grows and what it needs to survive. Something that is a statutory target of the Science curriculum in UK schools. In fact many topics covered in Science relate to the natural world. For instance, by year 2 children are expected to be able to name some common plants and trees.

A simple lesson that your garden can provide.



Perhaps children could also learn about wildlife like birds, bees and butterflies and how they can support them by planting particular plants or by building bug houses. We sometimes forget that without bugs, our food production as we know it would struggle to exist, as it is insects that are responsible for pollinating food sources such as potatoes, apples, strawberries, peas, courgettes, raspberries to name but a few. It is thought that one in three of our mouthfuls come from plants pollinated by insects! So support of the insect world is a pretty crucial topic for children to be learning about. Alongside this, they can learn how to grow their own food and herbs, encouraging them to live a more sustainable lifestyle. The RHS has a great page that discusses how you can get children involved in gardening. Click here for more details.

child watching dragon fly


3. Mental Wellbeing


child in garden

We tend to talk about mental health in relation to adults and adolescents. But what about young children? If you're a parent of a child whose ever struggled to settle at nursery or school or had trouble making friends for example, you'll have seen that children face anxieties and emotional upsets such as this often. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that the children in these scenarios should be considered as having poor mental health. They shouldn't. These are experiences and feelings that we all must overcome at some point. But we do need to respect their need for calm, space and time to process and understand their emotions. Children, in the earlier years in particular, are still learning to deal with complex emotions and it can be quite a challenge for them to do this appropriately. Any parent having dealt with the most stubborn of tantrums will know this. Through primary school into high school the tantrums may lessen, but inwardly the existence of children's anxieties and insecurities are still very real.


But what if they had access to a calm, outdoor space that they could go to. A place to escape to when they needed? I think this is something that almost all of us yearn for from time to time. Life can be so distracting and stressful sometimes, there's no wonder that we end up overwhelmed and stressed. But imagine the immature mind and how they handle such emotions without experience. Emotional regulation is a key life skill that will ultimately assist young children with their well-being in later life. If we can provide a calm, familiar space outside for children to retreat to and reflect, that would I think, be highly beneficial to them. Don't get me wrong, a cosy green space is undoubtedly not the only ingredient necessary for a child's mental well-being; competent, supportive adults that can listen, guide and reassure are also crucial. But space and time in the calming outdoors could a good place to start. A tent, a bench, a Wendy house, even a homemade den would all be great additions for children in this sense.


4. A Sense of Wonder


Child picking flowers in garden

As a child we are led to believe that grades are the key to success. If you get good grades in school, you'll do well in life. But as an adult we realise that life isn't that straight forward. It can take you in many a direction you hadn't imagined. Hence we'll often find ourselves forging a new path at some point. You could say that life itself is one long lesson, that doesn't stop where school finishes, but is just getting started.


With this in mind our children are going to need more than the initial achievement of good grades to work with. What perhaps might serve them better is a lifelong love of learning. A curiosity that feeds their knowledge. A want to strive toward new discoveries.


Child observing flower in garden

So how does this relate to our gardens? Well nature drives children's curiosity. It engages their sense of wonder. The hands on experience of playing in the outdoors provides a sensory stimulation like no other. They may wonder what's that buzzing noise? What does the grass feel like? What's does that flower smell like? Or why are there clouds in the sky? In the outdoors children are free to explore and

engage their thinking freely.


But children can be curious indoors right? Well technically yes of course they could, but the circumstances indoors are often more limiting and less creative. Outdoor play is much more unstructured, meaning that there isn't a specific way of playing with what they find. Those autumn leaves, are they to be crunched underfoot, kicked or thrown or are they a bed for a baby doll. There's not right or wrong way in the outdoors.


Conversely what children are presented with indoors is a little more restrictive. First of all not everywhere can be explored with the same freedom as in the garden. For instance, you'll likely not appreciate children exploring what happens if they threw a ball across the kitchen whilst cooking or if they decided to pour water all over your houseplants and soaked the floor. We've all seen the nightmare photos of children spreading the sudocrem up the walls and all over the dog when left unattended. Children are made for exploring and being curious and the garden allows for this to a much greater degree. Secondly, the indoor toys and activities that children have at their disposal tend be driven by their outcome. Meaning that unlike most outdoor activities, their is a more specific way of playing with them. Perhaps they're driving a toy car around the garage, or drawing a picture on the paper or even pushing buttons to make something happen. Don't get me wrong these activities have their place and in themselves invoke a degree of creativity. But they are much more structured that what children can experience in their garden.


The garden can provide a classroom full of sights, sounds, textures, colours and countless opportunities for unstructured learning that is difficult to replicate indoors. This quote from Ben Palmer Fry puts it perfectly,


‘Nature breeds curiosity; it helps to grow explorers rather than robots'.


 


So we know why children should get out in the garden. But how can you help? Here's some simple tips:


  • Bring learning outside. Allow for children to take their 'indoor' activities out in the garden.

  • Install some simple planters at their height to allow them to dig, plant and water plants.

  • Allow for play in the garden in ALL weathers!

  • Offer easy access to all weather clothing. Remember it's not bad weather, just bad clothing!

  • If possible create a covered space, eg a pergola with a tableland chairs where children can sit and enjoy activities.

  • Install a practical patio space in a position that allows you to easily supervise their play.

  • Plant plants that attract butterflies and bees or even create wildflower meadow.

  • Dens are a great fun addition to any garden and give children a sense of ownership of a space.

  • Plant and grow food. Even if it's just some simple herbs like chives or rosemary.

  • Create a bug house and name its residents.


If you would like some further ideas as to how you can make you garden work for your family, visit our design page here for more details.


 












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