One summer while I was in middle school, my grandfather brought my family a number of potato sets to plant in our garden. As we had more than we needed, I passed off a handful to my friend who lived across the street. Despite lacking a green thumb, she eagerly planted them in a corner of her yard.

By the end of the summer the plants had grown, and my friend was giddy with delight at the fact that she could dig up real potatoes from her own yard, then slice and fry them for a special treat. It was truly an accomplishment which she had never envisioned.

But while the sense of accomplishment was the foremost triumph of my friend’s experience, gardening can also provide a number of other benefits to children. Several of these are detailed in a recent Washington Post article by Shannon Brescher Shea, including:

1. Improved Concentration

As Shea explains, gardening gets children away from screens and into the fresh air, all while heightening the senses and providing a healthy project on which to focus:

“These benefits may be even greater for children with attention-deficit disorder. A survey of 96 families in the Midwest asked parents which activities appeared to decrease their child’s symptoms and which seemed to increase them. Parents consistently chose ‘green’ activities as having a positive effect on their child’s symptoms.”

2. Improved Health

The obvious benefits that gardening brings to a child’s health include fresh air and a heaping dose of Vitamin D. But as Shea explains, gardening can also help prevent future sickness by strengthening the immune system:

“Not being exposed to enough microbes as a child can result in an underdeveloped immune system, which can cause a host of problems, according to [University of Chicago microbiologist Jack] Gilbert, including autoimmune diseases, inflammatory bowel disorders and allergies. Being around dirt, in the garden or otherwise, can help kids develop that healthy microbiome that helps prevent these issues.”

3. Improved Eating Habits

Getting up close and personal with vegetables makes children more willing to try different things, suggests Shea. This point was recently underscored by English chef and author Jessica Oughton, who declared:

“’If they cook it themselves, they’re more likely to eat it; if they grow it themselves and cook it, then they’re much more likely to eat it.’”

But while Shea suggests that gardening is beneficial for children, she fails to note that these benefits can continue long after a child has passed into adulthood. But in her lapse, Thomas Jefferson picks up the slack.

In 1811, Jefferson wrote to a friend that “though an old man, I am but a young gardener.” He further noted that the diversity and opportunity for success and failure were some of his favorite parts of the job:

“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another….”

Many parents these days spend lots of time and money to get their children involved in all types of activities to improve their mental and physical health, as well as advance their success in life. But is it possible they are overlooking one of the cheapest, most natural, and most life-changing opportunities that happens to exist in their own backyards?

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