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May 28, 2024

Healthy reasons for children to garden 

This half term sees the return of  National Children’s Gardening Week which aims to help children to have fun in the garden and learn how to carry out simple, quick gardening projects. As summer approaches there’s never been a better time to get children out into the garden and outdoor spaces. Spending time in green spaces and gardens is good for our physical and mental health, and this includes infants and children. Studies have shown that levels of depression and anxiety can be reduced when we spent time in green spaces. A new social prescribing scheme for children has just been announced to help children aged 9-13 years who suffer from the effects of loneliness. They will join in with activities that include fishing and gardening to boost their mental wellbeing.


Children taking the lead at Chelsea  

In this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, children took over a plot for the first time and designed a garden aptly named, “No Adults Allowed”. The garden was designed by pupils from Sulivans Primary School in Fulham in a design that was an immersive, sensory experience where children could enjoy nature, and built without artificial elements such as concrete. After some haggling with the RHS, adults were allowed inside the garden so long as they pledged to either plant a tree, donate to the RHS School Gardening campaign, or find a flower in the garden starting with the first letter of their name!


This follows last years children’s trail through the show gardens and a picnic sponsored by The Princess of Wales, who spent time with children following the trail round the flower show and learning about sustainable gardening in the Sustainable Garden Product category packed with ideas about simpler, less cultivated approaches to gardening, and how to grow plants and attract wildlife without using chemicals. 


Healthy benefits of gardening for children

There’s an abundance of ideas to encourage children into gardens and green spaces – time outside gives them a chance to get their hands dirty and learn about the relationship between growing plants and what they eat, and watch flowering plants coming to bloom. Studies have shown significant reductions in depression and anxiety, improved social interactions, and other wider effects, including opportunities for vocational development as they grow up. 


Avoiding pesticides and herbicides is important for everyone, but especially for children whose brains and bodyies are still developing. Top of the list of chemical substances to avoid is glyphosate, a synthetic chemical widely used as the key ingredient in weed killers such as Roundup. The IARC class glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic’ and exposing children to it can have toxic effects. The effects of exposure in children are not yet fully understood, evidence is emerging that it can cause fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome, a collection of symptoms that increase risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.


In the most recent study, 87% of children and adolescents who tested positive for biomarkers of glyphosate in their urine also had changes in levels of sex steroid hormonal markers. Although some of the negative associations between exposure and lower levels were marginal, researchers concluded that female adolescents were potentially more at risk from reduced levels of sex steroids as result of exposure to glyphosate. Exposure to glyphosate during pregnancy has also been associated with adverse changes in early neurological development, with the most pronounced delays seen at two years of age.


Ideas to get children gardening, in chemical free spaces

Whilst the health effects of exposure to glyphosate and other garden chemicals can be concerning, there are many ways to get children involved in garden activities without the risk .

  • National Children’s Gardening Week offer a wide range of eco friendly ideas to encourage children to come up with their own gardening projects. A free Peter Rabbit gardening pack is available from garden centres across the UK.
  • Get children digging to remove weeds in the garden rather than spraying them with chemical formulations – it’s great exercise and an opportunity for them to learn about how plants grow, especially if they pull up the whole root!
  • Many children love mixing ‘potions’, so encourage them to mix organic weed killers using natural ingredients such as baking powder, lemon juice, and white white vinegar. Your plants will feel the benefit, insects will thrive, and children will enjoy the mixing process. Gardeners World offer a great guide here.
  • If you have your own garden, plant wild areas that will not only create areas of natural interest, but also habitats for insects and bees.
  • Set up a gardening group at your child’s school to teach children how to grow organic food, starting with fast growing plants such as lettuce, radish, beans, and peas.
  • Ask your school how weeds are managed and set up a volunteer group for children and parents to keep the weeds under control naturally without using chemicals. Weeds in children’s play areas can create a trip hazard, but if they are managed by spraying chemical herbicides such as glyphosate, these substances can drift onto other surfaces in play areas at home, or in playgrounds. ROSPA recommends use of non-chemical alternatives in any area where children play.
  • Ask your local council about their policy on weedkillers. Some local authorities have already stopped using glyphosate sprays in public areas. Check what’s happening in your area here.


Further reading 



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Image credit: A3pfamily


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