Starting a garden – no matter how big or small – can expand your toddler’s interests and target key areas of development in unique ways. And did you know that some of our BabySparks activities pair perfectly with gardening? More on that below, but first let’s take a look at the many ways planting, caring for, and harvesting a garden benefit your little one.
How Does Gardening Benefit Toddlers?
Toddlers of all ages can get involved with gardening, and keep doing as they get older! Here’s how gardening with your toddler can encourage development, learning, and bonding…and even boost his health:
Developmental and Educational Benefits
Your toddler uses several tools and body parts to work on a garden with you, which means he’s also developing various skills. Fine motor development is abundant in the garden as your toddler uses a watering can to pour, a shovel to dig, and his hands to squeeze and move dirt.
He’ll also target:
- Sensory development: The outdoors provides plenty of opportunities for the senses, like smelling fresh air or flowers, feeling new textures like soil and rocks, and hearing bugs buzz and birds chirp.
- Visual-motor development: Gardening requires a lot of hand-and-eye work. Your toddler can boost these skills as he digs, plants, and waters the garden.
- Math and science skills: Math and science are prominent concepts in the garden. Gardening introduces math skills like counting, measuring, and spatial awareness, and science concepts like taking care of the environment and the plant life cycle.
- Independence: The more tasks your toddler succeeds at on his own in the garden, the more confident he’ll feel to take on other everyday tasks, like feeding and dressing himself.
Gardening gives you and your toddler an opportunity to spend time together without distractions. You get to spend quality time outdoors working towards a similar goal of growing and caring for a garden together! Make the most of your time by planning your garden, talking about what you’re doing, and even talking about each other’s day while you work.
You might think that playing in the dirt is a no-go for your toddler’s health. Surprisingly, research suggests that the opposite is true. One study in Pediatrics, for example, found that thumb-suckers and nail-biters generally had fewer sensitivities to common allergens, possibly because they regularly get dirt particles in their mouths. Jack Gilbert, a scientist and co-author of Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System, told NPR that exposure to germs could be beneficial for youngsters. “Their immune system’s going to become stronger because of it,” Gilbert explains.
Research also suggests that gardening with fruits and vegetables can help picky eaters become more comfortable with trying new foods. That’s one reason many schools are adopting gardening programs for students. According to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, gardening offers hands-on experiences with growing and caring for food, which can foster a deep emotional connection that encourages children to try what they’ve helped create.
Finally, gardening is excellent exercise for both you and your toddler! It may not seem like a strenuous activity, but gardening requires constant movement, which burns calories and keeps muscles strong.
Now for those BabySparks activities that can be done in the garden! Try: Helping Around the House VIII, IX & X; Watering Plants; Uncovering Hidden Colors; and Inside & Outside III.