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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 25.0° F  Overcast
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Dig in the dirt and have some fun
Planting and tending a garden is a great learning experience
Plant easy-to-grow things so kids will see early success.
Plant easy-to-grow things so kids will see early success.

Dug in the dirt lately? Planting and tending a garden is the perfect excuse to get dirty and have fun doing it. It's also a wonderfully healthy activity for parents and kids, especially when you do it together.

There are many great reasons to garden with your children. First of all it's good exercise. You bend, you stoop, you dig, you hoe, you drag the hose, you carry mulch and you do it all in the fresh air and sunshine. So if you would like to see your children become more active out of doors, planting a garden together is a start.

Caring for a garden is also a good way to help children to eat better. Recent studies by the American Dietetic Association found that children who garden eat more fruits and vegetables. Kids feel differently about vegetables that they have grown and cared for themselves.

Perhaps one of the best reasons of all to garden with your children is that it can help fight "nature deficit disorder," a term coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. He describes it as a kind of spiritual loss that children today experience because they spend so much time indoors connected to computers, TV's and MP3 players. In his book Louv writes about the intangible things that children (and adults) get from being in nature: healing, creativity and understanding. Nature, he writes, is reflected in our capacity for wonder.

Find wonder with your child in the garden: prepare the soil, plant the seed, nurture the plant and enjoy what it gives you, tomato or sunflower. It's the cycle of life over and over.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

  • Kids may find it easier and more fun if they have their own tools, harvest basket and garden gloves. Many stores now carry smaller sized gardening equipment that is suitable for kids.

  • Be clear with the kids before you start about tool safety and how to step carefully so the plants aren't damaged. Make sure they understand what things are okay to pick and eat and when.

  • Plant hardy, easy to grow things like radishes and sunflowers so kids will have some early success in their gardening efforts.

  • Be sure to plant safe, non-poisonous plants or flowers. Talk to the experts at your local garden center.

  • Wear old clothes and plan on everyone getting dirty.

Wisconsin Youth Company has a children's garden at its administration building on Madison's southwest side. Teens from our youth center and younger kids from our after school program help care for the garden. Last year the teens built raised beds and put in walls made of concrete blocks that they decorated. Last summer the younger children harvested lettuce and tomatoes from their garden and entertained their parents at a "salad luncheon." Everyone is waiting to see if the little cherry trees planted two years ago will bear fruit this year.

At Wisconsin Youth Company programs we believe in kids having healthy fun in the out of doors. If that means a garden gets planted and tended so much the better!

Visit the Wisconsin Youth Company website to check out our summer day camps, travel camps and immersion camps for school age children and summer courses for middle school youth.

This story is written and presented by Wisconsin Youth Company, which provides quality before- and after-school care, summer day-camp and travel camp experiences and family travel adventures. WYC exists so that the children of Wisconsin benefit from communities that nurture them at a sustainable cost.

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