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American Girls [and Guys] Need to Garden

Since January of 2017, our community has come a long way toward creating an American Girl Doll Club that is becoming an integral part of many of our girls’ lives.Because several of the mothers have been generous with their time, we are teaching tons of girls how to sew. Most of the girls have completed the sewing of a vest for their dolls, and we have established the reality that our Doll Club for American Girls Is A No-Bullying Zone! That is quite a resume for two months of club time.

We have had such a huge response from the girls who have wanted to participate that we have broken the club into two groups–a younger group of girls and an older group of girls.

The next couple of weeks, we’ll take a spring break from the American Girl Doll Club, but on April 28th, both of the groups will meet together–as well as any other kids in our community–to celebrate Arbor Day.

Every kid needs nature, and this year, Linwood Library is creating a Children’s Garden. On April 28th, 2017, every kid in our community is invited to celebrate Arbor Day by bringing a perennial flower and by planting it into our Children’s Garden. We’ll also paint rocks and have a wiener roast, but the primary purpose of the gathering is to join hands, as a community of kids, to create a place to watch nature grow.

Before everyone begins to feel sad that the American Girl Doll Club will not meet on April 28, 2017, I want to remind them that the American Girl Doll Company loves gardens and that several American Girl Doll Gardening Outfits have been created throughout the years. On April 28, 2017, we’ll have a different kind of club meeting–one in which we celebrate the child’s need for nature and for gardening.

It is a proven fact that Kids Need to Touch Nature.

And Kids Need to Hear Nature.

And Kids Need to Smell Nature.

In short, Kids Need to Be Outside, and They Need to Play Outside.

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I am an avid gardener. I garden to create Zen-like spaces to sit in meditative-like silences and to do nothing more than heal from the damages of trying to navigate through life, and kids need similar periods of meditative silence.

But I also garden because the act of gardening itself is healing. I have read that handling dirt supports good health–that the dirt involved in gardening has a healing quality.

Kids Need to Dig in the Dirt.

And I can guarantee that my emotional spirit is improved by the act of gardening.

Kids Need to Experience the Wonder of Working in a Garden.

As I get older, I also need more and more of the exercise that gardening provides me, but my need for gardening stems back to my childhood. My dad was an avid gardener and his mother, my grandmother was, too.

My childhood home was almost directly behind my grandmother’s house, and at least once daily, I would walk across the lawns from my house to my grandmother’s house. During gardening season, that meant walking through my grandmother’s massive flower, vegetable, and fruit gardens. I would enter through the back door, and my grandmother’s gardening closet was just inside that door.  I used to love to open that closet door and to allow nature and my grandmother, and my grandmother’s garden to reach out and embrace me:

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Grandma’s Closet
by Jacki Kellum

The bonnet’s at the very top
The duster’s down below.
Fancy flowers are drying still,
They’re hanging in a row.

Breathe the sunshine, weeds, and dirt,
Catch the seeds from Grandma’s skirt,
Store them in your summer shirt,
Plant them, let them grow.

© Jacki Kellum November 24, 2015

My grandparents not only owned their own home, they also owned the string of houses next to them.  Keep in mind that this was a rural community, and my grandparents’ houses had immense lots.  The people who rented had nice yards, but my grandmother gardened the backs of all of the yards that my grandparents owned, and on the absolute back of the land, my grandmother planted a glorious stand of hollyhocks.

There was an alley behind the hollyhocks and my street was behind the hollyhocks.  During the summers, I used to walk through the alley, into the towering stand of hollyhocks, and through my grandmother’s flower garden–and finally, to her house.  As soon as I passed beneath the sheltering arms of the hollyhocks, I felt safe and protected. It was a magnificent pilgrimage, and even today as I retrace those steps, my spirit is lifted.

Certainly, as I labor to create my own garden now, my main ambition must be that of holding on to my grandmother’s garden, my grandmother, and my own childhood.  Actually, there could be no better reason at all, but research proves that there are even more healing benefits to gardening than that.

I like the fact that the American Girl Doll Makers seek to encourage more from girls than the buying of expensive toys. They seek to encourage quality reading. They seek to teach history and cultures, and the also promote the learning of cooking, art, and gardening, too.

Many childhood agencies are conducting research into the need for providing avenues for outdoor play. Several agencies, including Disney and the National Wildlife Foundation, are contributors to those studies.

Horticulture is recognized as an authentic type of therapy. Here is what the Horticulture Therapy Association says about the healing power of gardening:

“Horticultural therapy techniques are employed to assist participants to learn new skills or regain those that are lost. Horticultural therapy helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization. In physical rehabilitation, horticultural therapy can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance, and endurance. In vocational horticultural therapy settings, people learn to work independently, problem solve, and follow directions.” Read More Here

For several years, I have worked part-time as the Children’s Librarian in my community. For at least ten of those years, I have wanted to create a children’s garden. This year, I have finally received the go-ahead nod of approval, and we will begin tilling our garden this week. April 28th is Arbor Day, and we are having a huge Arbor Day party for our kids. Every child is asked to bring a perennial flower to plant in our garden, a spot from which they can watch their own plant grow. There is something magical about watching nature work through the stages of its own growth cycles, and that will be one of the benefits of creating a garden for our community’s children. We also hope to grow fruits and vegetables in our children’s garden, and we want to cook what we grow with our children. In summary, we want our community’s children to actualize the benefits of growing with and through nature.

I hear increasing reports of the problems that children are having in school. Children have problems with ADHD, problems with autism, problems with depression, and they are displaying an excessive amount of anger and hostility. On the other hand, I read that children are spending less and less time outdoors and are spending an increasingly large amount of time inside, watching television, playing video games, etc. Research proves that children spend a fraction of the time playing outdoors that their parents did, and other research shows that children are simultaneously dealing with increasingly large problems with obesity, depression, and other emotional issues. Further research proves that the issues are connected. The well-being of children is adversely affected by too much time indoors and not enough time outdoors. Encouraging children to garden can help resolve some of those issues.

Disney conducted research into this area of concern and has begun a campaign to create more spaces for outdoor play and to improve outdoor conservation. The National Wildlife Foundation is doing the same. Here is part of the NWF report:

“Little kids love to play. That’s not news. Play comes naturally and is necessary for the development of physical, emotional, social and cognitive skills. Play is part of being human. But, as it turns out, not all play is equal.

Recent research shows that young children who play outdoors in spaces that are specifically designed for 0-5 year olds actually garner more developmental benefits:

  • They engage in 22% more physical activity.
  • Their behaviors improve.
  • They exhibit fewer Attention Deficit Disorder symptoms
  • They tend to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“In addition, children who spend time outdoors at a young age are more likely to remain active as they get older, and they tend to prefer outdoor experiences into adulthood. Whether you aim to reduce childhood obesity, improve social development, increase cognitive skills or build the next generation of conservation stewards, getting children to spend regular time outdoors at the earliest possible age is a recipe for success.” Read more of that report Here

I know from experience that gardening is important for children. Gardening is a way for kids to get outside and to become part of nature, and Kids Need Nature. Although this is fodder for yet another post, Nature Also Needs Our Kids. Kids and Nature: It’s a Win-Win Situation.

©Jacki Kellum April 8, 2017

Heal