Link copied to clipboard

A friend mentioned last week she was putting together an order to an online seed merchant and it sent me off to look through seed catalogs to find interesting veggies I could grow myself this year. Certainly homegrown vegetables are good for you. Now a new study from the journal Horticultural Technology points out that the gardening itself is good for kids, even before they eat what they’ve grown.

Researchers measured children’s level of activity as they performed 10 ordinary gardening tasks in 5-minute sessions, separated by 5-minute rest times. This meant that the children worked for 50 minutes, five minutes at a time, in digging, raking, weeding, mulching, hoeing, sowing seeds, harvesting, watering, mixing growing medium, and planting transplants. Using technology to measure children’s heart rate, oxygen use, and energy expenditure, scientists were able to categorize digging and raking as “high-intensity” activities, and the eight other tasks as being of moderate intensity.

Growing a garden – even in small time slots – is good for kids. It uses their muscles, builds strength and coordination, and gets them outdoors.

Of course, growing a garden also provides experience in how plants grow, in measuring and marking off a garden plot, in decision making of all sorts, including what to grow and whether the garden needs more water, and in the sorts of creatures who live in the soil and fly by overhead. Growing a garden makes a person smarter.

And then, of course, there’s the eating. Junk food doesn’t grow, only good food does. Naturally, growing food adds to the nutrition of your family table. The fun of picking and washing what a child grew himself makes it more likely he’ll take a taste.

I don’t have much space – last year I just grew things in big plastic pots at the top of the driveway. Find a sunny place in your yard or on the balcony. Then try growing any of these:

If you have a large-ish spot in the yard, grow pumpkins.

Now is the time, when winter seems endless, to start thinking about spring. Look through a seed catalog with your children and pick out a few things to grow in your little backyard farm. Get ready for spring and get ready for activity, thinking and delicious eating.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

Exercise is a bad word.

At least for many children, exercise sounds like hard work. It sound boring. It sounds like something a person has to do, not something she wants to do.

If you’re having trouble selling your children on being more active, it might be because you’re suggesting they go get some exercise. Try calling it something else.

Talk about doing specific things that are fun. Shooting baskets. Playing with the dog. Seeing how many pull-ups you can do. Tossing around a Frisbee. No one ever said getting exercise meant doing calisthenics. There’s a lot of other ways to be active for half an hour or more that make the time fly by.

In addition, avoid tying being active to a goal, like losing weight or even getting stronger. The way to make being active a regular part of your child’s life is to let it be valuable for its own sake. Because it’s fun. Because it feels good.

Many of us have made some resolutions for the new year, resolutions that might have included getting our kids more active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that every child should engage in active play, preferably outdoors, for an hour every day. We know this is good for our families.

In addition, during the cold, dark winter months, we feel more like hibernating than being active. Cuddling in a blanket with a good book or the television seems more attractive than walking around the neighborhood. But everyone eats better, sleeps better, and is more alert and even smarter when they’ve got the blood moving and shaken out the cobwebs.

How to do it without assigning “exercise”?

  1. Make a list. Sit down with your kids and brainstorm as many ways of being active as you can come up with. Limit yourselves to ideas that are actually possible from home – no point is listing “go skiing” if that requires hours of time, a lift ticket, and a drive to the slopes. Be inclusive. Gardening and cleaning the garage together count.
  2. Include indoor ideas as well as outdoor ones. Jogging through the house, up and down the stairs,  to loud music and marking off each circuit as you pass the kitchen can be just as much fun as a jog around the block. Try dancing. Even lifting weights can be fun if it’s done for fun, not for “exercise.”
  3. Aim for being “active” not for being tired. There’s plenty to be gained without needing to feel any pain. All activity is good and leads to more activity later. Just get your kids moving, don’t worry too much about how hard or how fast.
  4. Commit to a span of time each day. Maybe 20 minutes, maybe 30, with the option always to keep playing or keep going longer if you want. If you can, establish a dependable time every day for activity – maybe before dinner. But getting some activity in each day is more important than keeping to a schedule.
  5. Have fun. If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong. Be active in a way that makes you and your kids happy.

Activity is good for everybody, and your children might find it easier to be active if you’re active along with them. Go for it. Make this a family thing.

Just don’t call it “exercise.”


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.