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What Gardening Activities Help Ground Kids?

By Pam Dewey • gardening for kids, mindfulness and kids, gardening is grounding for kids, regulation and kids, gardening is calming, gardening activities kids, sensory discovery garden, sensory play garden kids, gardening activities children, why gardening is good for kids • April 25, 2024

Picture the last time you enjoyed one of those perfect Minnesota days: you stepped out in a light jacket, the sun warmed your skin, birds were chirping happily and the trees were starting to sprout buds. Even though you may have had a stressful day at work, suddenly — surrounded by the beauty of nature — you’re filled with wonder and a sense of calm.

Spending time in nature is grounding. It forces us to slow down, be mindful and observe the beauty around us. Encouraging this kind of wonder and mindfulness is, of course, important for kids, too.

You can do that by engaging kids in gardening activities. Vegetable gardens foster healthy eating, and gardening offers many other benefits, including providing positive sensory input, encouraging mindfulness, building gross motor skills, and teaching kids to recognize different emotions.

Though gardening is good for all kids, it’s also has been shown to have particular benefits for children with autism. An article published in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening states, “A study of male youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) showed that garden program participants with ASD made significant improvements in independence, adaptive behavior and interaction skills.”

Here are a few gardening activities that can encourage mindfulness and self-regulation skills for kids.

Digging in the ground is like a natural sensory bin

A sensory bin is typically a tub filled with common household items like beans, rice, uncooked pasta, craft glass, beads or kinetic sand. People may hide objects in bins for the fun of discovery. If you think about it, a sandbox is basically a big sensory bin. Likewise, the process of planting vegetables and flowers in the garden provides the same type of input for kids. Have them dig a hole with a small spade, place the plant in the hole and then use their hands to push the dirt back over the plant. You can also have them water the new plants and stick stakes in the ground to label the plants.

Like sensory bins, digging and pushing dirt provides tactile sensory input. This type of sensory input is calming to many people. This can be particularly true for kids with autism and others who enjoy tactical input. So, when people feel dysregulated, immersing themselves in this type of sensation helps them calm and relax. For kids who don’t like getting dirt on their hands, offer gardening gloves so they can still have experience while meeting their tactile sensory needs.

Try some light “heavy work”

Heavy work activities can increase a child’s sense of body awareness and attention span and also promote feelings of calm. Some garden or yard-related heavy work activities include raking leaves (perfect for spring cleanup!), pushing a wheelbarrow, carrying a heavy watering can and pulling up weeds. In addition to encouraging a child to be mindful and calm, these activities build gross motor skills and help children strengthen their bodies.

Create an observation activity

Encourage your child to do a garden observation activity. Depending on how old your child is, this could be anywhere from 2-5 minutes. Have them pick a place in the garden to do their “observation.” Then, ask them to be quiet, while you make suggestions of things to notice. You can prompt them to pay attention to various stimuli with questions like:

  • What sounds are you hearing?
  • What are you smelling?
  • What colors do you see in the plants?
  • Do you see any animals or bugs? What do these look like?

After the time is up, ask them to describe what they saw, heard and felt. Slowing down, observing nature, and reflecting on what they saw encourages children to be mindful and to learn to appreciate the beauty around them. It also teaches them to reflect inward and think about how seeing these things made them feel.

Explore garden scents

If you’re growing herbs or other fragrant plants, do a scent exploration journey with your child. Show them how to harvest a few leaves or petals from the plants without harming them. Then, have your child close their eyes and smell the plants. Show them how to massage the leaves to release the oils, and have your child close their eyes and inhale again. Ask them to keep their eyes closed for a few seconds, and then explain how the scents made them feel. This teaches them to slow their minds, and reflect on how they experience feelings in their body. Have your child experiment with a variety of plants to see if they elicit new feelings. Afterward, you can share what certain scents are “supposed” to do to see if that aligns with what your child experienced.

Lavender is supposed to be a relaxing scent. Roses also have a calming fragrance, and some believe rose petals can help with “headaches and fatigue.” VeryWell Mind states, “Smelling rosemary creates a stimulatory effect,” and it has been shown to boost memory. Basil leaves are believed to be energizing. Sage can help relieve stress and anxiety and help people unwind. VeryWell Mind states, “Peppermint may help you feel energized when you smell or consume it” and can help reduce fatigue.

Creating and maintaining a garden has many health benefits. For kids, garden activities can help to encourage mindfulness, provide calming sensory input, promote self-reflection and teach them how they experience feelings in their body.