- Author: Iris Craig
By Iris Craig, U.C. Master Gardeners of Napa County
Gardening can be a positive influence on children, teens and adults. Scientific evidence shows that it can help alleviate stress, instill a feeling of accomplishment, improve respect for nature, even provide a sense of awe and wonder at watching plants grow.
Studies have shown that children of any age may improve motor skills by gardening. They also learn about the life cycle of plants and insects. Many a sunny window in a kindergarten classroom displays fast-germinating radishes, sunflowers and beans in milk cartons.
Do gardening and exposure to green space have a positive effect in the lives of children? As a classroom teacher and parent, I can confidently affirm that they do. One Spanish study found that children exposed to green space at home and at school developed more white brain matter, resulting in better cognitive, physical and mental health, more success in learning as well as a sense of wonder.
Just having plants in the classroom has a positive effect. As a teacher at an inner-city high school, I would bring in a pot of tulips in the spring and place them on my desk, perhaps to brighten my own spirits, but ultimately to spark interest among the students.
One day I noticed a group of ninth-grade boys discussing the changing tulips. As inner-city students, they hadn't seen many flowers near their homes and had no idea that tulips opened flat during the day. Much to my joy, they would “check out the plant” each day and chat about it upon entering the room.
Another study conducted in schools in England, Kenya and India concluded that hands-on garden experience heightened students' sense of responsibility. They improved at teamwork and showed a greater respect for nature and themselves.
School gardens can be incorporated into the science, reading, math and art curriculum. They may improve nutrition, encourage physical activity and boost agricultural and ecological literacy, with resulting improvements in behavior and attitudes.
Spending time outdoors gets children away from technology and television, helps them burn energy and promotes social interaction. When parents of children with attention deficit disorder were asked to describe situations where the symptoms were alleviated, the majority suggested outdoor activities in green settings, including gardening. These activities had a positive impact on behavior, including socializing and impulse control.
But it's not just children and teens that benefit from gardening. A meta-analysis of scientific studies on gardening showed that gardening improves ones mood, and also results in increases in life satisfaction, quality of life, and a greater sense of community. (A meta-analysis is a study looking at the outcomes of many individual studies for overall trends and results.) If you are already a gardener, you know how much better you feel after you spend some time outside in the garden. Evidence of the physical, mental and social benefits of gardening cannot be overstated. Gardening also seems to reduce medical visits and need for medications. Science says you may even lose some weight and increase your bone density if you take up gardening!
If you have been thinking about getting into gardening, want to learn something new or improve your gardening skills, come have fun with us doing the hands-on activities planned for the Napa County Master Gardeners' Fall Faire, where science fair meets carnival.
Some of the Fall Faire's booths with science based fun for adults, children and teens include: Good Bugs versus Bad Bugs; Worm Composting; Carnivorous Plants; Mushroom Madness; Soil: It's Not Dirt; Secret Life of Plants; Pollinator Paradise; Hay/Straw Bale Gardening; Beverages from the Garden; Seeds for Fall Planting; Herb Crafts and Seeds; Planting Succulents; Natural Dyeing; Garlands from Your Garden and Garden Tool Care.
Admire the display of creative scarecrows and vote for your favorite. Stop by the Master Gardener Help Desk to get your gardening questions answered. Want to know which tree to plant? Pick up a copy of the Master Gardener's Trees of Napa Valley (cash or check please). There will be a food truck, a seating area, live music and games for all ages.
Community groups with booths at the fair include 4-H, California Native Plant Society, Natural Resources Conservation District, Napa Compost and Recycling, Connolly Ranch, The School Garden Doctor, Napa Water Conservation District, beekeeper George Altobell and the Bonsai Society.
Napa County Master Gardeners' second annual Fall Faire will take place on Saturday, October 5, from noon to 4 p.m., at 1710 Soscol Avenue in Napa. Tickets are $5 for adults. Children 15 and under are free with an accompanying adult. Purchase tickets online with a credit card. Cash and check only will be accepted at the door. Find more on the Fall Faire at http://napamg.ucanr.edu/fallfaire/.
The UC Master Gardeners are volunteers who provide UC research-based information on home gardening and answer your questions. To find out more about upcoming programs or to ask a garden question, visit the Master Gardener website (http://napamg.ucanr.edu) or call (707) 253-4221 between 9 a.m. and noon on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.