Why kids should grow a garden

All smiles: Heidi Hodges is happy in the garden, much like her father.
All smiles: Heidi Hodges is happy in the garden, much like her father. 

I've been very lucky from an early age - my mum and dad were keen gardeners. I often helped with the lawn and was able to buy a packet of tomato seeds as a six- or seven-year-old. I was hooked.

Gardening is a great educational tool for kids of all ages. It's fun, healthy and can teach your little ones where food comes from, how long vegies take to grow and what plants need to be healthy.

If you've got a active little boy, get him digging. What little boy doesn't like digging in dirt?

As for a sweet little girl, like my Heidi, planting brightly coloured flowers, watering and a little bit of raking put a smile on her face.

Most children enjoy working outdoors and love digging in the soil, getting dirty, creating things and watching plants grow.

If you can remember back to your childhood, there was a lot of free time, out and about on your own or with the children from your street. Today, we rely heavily on supervised indoor activities that often involve sitting down and watching a screen of some type.

Now, I know that's safe and it reduces the risk of falling off the trampoline (a rite of passage for my generation) but giving your children some ownership of the garden will mean they will be proud of their plot and won't take it for granted.

The backyard is a great place for their imagination to grow, in cubby houses and forts, making mud pies and racetracks for toy cars.

I think the best thing you can do is give kids their own space. It doesn't have to be big. A wine barrel or a square metre in the garden is a good start. Let them work on a plan, work out what they want and how to achieve it. This is great for confidence and decision making and teaches the kids responsibility.

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There are plenty of kid-size tools on the market that make working in the garden fun for little people. Plant interesting plants that look massive to young ones like giant sunflowers, corn and tomatoes. And who doesn't like strawberries?

Give your kids some freedom in the garden. Let them climb trees, pick flowers, even catch some ants. Look for lizards and butterflies with them and they'll fall in love with nature. Plant that seed in their minds and you never know where it might lead. There are lots of great careers in my field but it might be construction, the environment, science, the weather or even food.

Any physical work in the garden is going to help little ones' gross motor skills and older kids' muscle strength and balance. Ball sports aren't for everyone, so it might be a great way to help with hand-eye co-ordination.

When I was seven, we had a galah named Monty (we named him after my dad). He used to flick sunflower seeds out of his cage. My dad, Monty, showed me how to plant, maintain and pick the resulting flowers.

I'm no doctor but there's mounting research that exposing infants and preschool kids to the germs found in the garden may give them greater protection against illness, allergies and maybe even asthma. Just as a baby brain needs stimulation to develop normally, young bodies need to strengthen their immune systems by being exposed to everyday germs.

Go on, get dirty and let the kids get dirty. What's the worst thing that will happen? You might have fun, learn, get fit and, if you're lucky, enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Remember: dirt is good.