What is your favorite thing about springtime? Here at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, the warm weather of April marks the joyful start of planting season at our two organic gardens—one at our headquarters in Roslyn Heights and the other at our Marks Family Right From the Start 0-3+ Center in Manhasset.
When they begin as clients of the Guidance Center, many children and teens have low self-esteem and low self-confidence, but when they learn how to garden and then share their knowledge with children and adolescents from our other therapy groups, they feel accomplished.
“One of the most critical things for kids we work with is to help them develop and build a sense of belonging, mastery and competence,” says Andrew Malekoff, Executive Director of the Guidance Center. “In the garden, it’s also a way for them to connect with other kids.”
“We work with kids who sometimes have trouble staying focused and organized, but in the garden, they are able to do those things,” says Hillary McGrath, Mental Health Counselor at the Guidance Center. McGrath teaches the younger kids a poem: “Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds, you can plant flowers, or you can plant weeds.” And then they talk about behaviors they might want to “weed out” of their lives.
Groups of our children and teen clients water, seed and weed the organic beds, and they’re filled with joy when they see the vegetables grow. They bring some of the produce home to their families, but the excess goes to a local food pantry, which makes them feel proud of their ability to help others. “Kids have a sense of giving back,” says Bruce Kaufstein, Director of Clinical Services at the Guidance Center. “It’s empowering for them to give something back to the community.”
Of course, gardening is a great learning experience not only for kids and teens with mental health challenges, but for every child! Below are some of the lessons that come from working the soil:
- Gardening teaches children to respect nature and to marvel in the beauty and abundance that they helped create with their own two hands.
- Group gardening helps kids learn social skills as they work together to tend to the vegetables and flowers they are growing.
- Working in a garden helps children develop a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem as they witness what their hard work and dedication can create.
- Gardening helps reduce stress as kids focus their attention on the tasks at hand, live in the present moment, and leave behind obsessive thoughts and worry.
- The physical nature of gardening is good exercise for the body, and it also releases “feel good” chemicals such as serotonin.
- Finally, by growing vegetables themselves, kids are more likely to eat them!
For more information about our programs and services, call (516) 626-1971 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.