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Ask any parent today and he or she will tell you that it’s tough to compete for a child’s attention. Distractions abound – texting, gaming, wireless phones, digital devices that play music and movies, social networking and more consume enormous amounts of an individual’s time. As a parent, sometimes it seems like your child is more connected to the digital world than he or she is with you. And let’s face it, even adults can get caught up these things as well.

Gardening is a great way to get outside with your child and explore the natural world. Not only is it great exercise, gardening provides a positive effect on mental health and well-being.

1.) Sunlight exposure allows children to get adequate amounts of vitamin D. It’s no secret that children don’t get outside as much as they did in past generations. Seventy percent of U.S. children are deficient in vitamin D – and it only takes 10-15 minutes a day outside to get enough sunlight to avoid a deficiency. A vitamin D deficiency can have serious consequences for your child’s health. It’s been linked to high blood pressure and other risks for heart disease.

Dr. Michal Melamed, an assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology, and population health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in the Bronx, New York, says that parents should help their children get at least 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure daily without sunscreen. That’s just the right amount of time to go check on the garden and to pick some fresh flowers and veggies.

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2.) Children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables. Anyone who’s ever sampled fresh peas and sweet corn knows that they are much more delicious than their canned and frozen counterparts. This is because the sugars in these veggies starts to turn to starch as soon as they’re picked. Kids will develop more positive associations with vegetables if they’re served the sweet, fresh versions versus something out of a can. Plus, canned food is the one of the largest sources of toxic BPA – who wants to be exposing their family to that?

My 10-month old studies a bulb of garlic that was pulled out of the ground just moments earlier.

3.) Gardening teaches responsibility and patience while offering fulfilling rewards. Give your child a little plot of ground and pick out seeds and plants together. Children as young as two will enjoy helping to prepare a garden plot by digging in the soil. Older children will enjoy perusing the seed catalogs during the last weeks of winter.

When planting a child’s garden, choose plants that have good pest and disease resistance. You want to avoid having to apply any chemicals to keep your plants healthy. Plants that are good candidates for a child’s garden include carrots, peas, radishes, onions, hybrid tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and rhubarb. You may even want to plant a garden around a theme – a salsa garden could include tomatoes, peppers, onions and cilantro. A pizza garden could include garlic, tomatoes and oregano.

4.) Gardening is good physical exercise. Researchers at Kansas State University determined that gardening is a form of “moderate intensity” exercise. The Centers for Disease Control recommend 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise three times a week. By gardening with your children you will all benefit.

5.) Working with plants outside gives your child an opportunity to connect with nature. A study entitled “Teaming children and elders to grow food and environmental consciousness,” published in Applied Environmental Education & Communication found that “students expressed an increased understanding of ecology, interconnections in nature, and responsibility to care for the environment” after participating in an intergenerational gardening project. Gardening gets your child outside and away from the distractions of the TV, gaming console or computer It reminds children that there’s a fascinating natural world out there greater than themselves.

Gardening has lifelong, therapeutic benefits. By taking the time to garden with your child you are giving him or her the opportunity to have better nutrition, more exercise and a better understanding of the natural world. It’s definitely an investment worth considering.