The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Lifestyle Fitness for Kids Through Gardening

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"Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration." ~ Lou Erickson

 Involve children in gardening at any level. Getting outside to dig, bend, stretch, think, and create in the fresh air is health as a lifestyle - improving physical skills, knowledge, confidence, cooperation, discipline, caretaking, and purposeful activity.

"What this country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds." ~ Will Rogers

A few weekends ago, the Philadelphia City Gardens Contest ran final judging. Husband Paul and I are judges. I don't know much about horticulture, but Paul does, and I am good at holding the clipboard and getting dirty.

Each judging team travels to gardens all over the city, grouped according to garden purpose. There might be community vegetable gardens in the city's most blighted areas, flower gardens grouped according to size, or mixed use individual or group gardens. Gardens are judged for many points including health and variety of plants, whether natural or inventive bug and weed control is used, and interesting use of materials. In past years we visited a garden in one of the most difficult areas of the city, which had made neat container gardens from tires dumped in the area. Another garden gleaned trash from the street to help clean the neighborhood, including a bathtub and vacuum cleaner, reborn in the garden with painted smiles, streaming vines of flowers, posed like characters at a tea party. We met 90-year-old ladies who tended their garden in dresses and church hats, teaching neighborhood children self-respect instead of vandalizing, and to reap what they sow, and share what they harvest for healthier neighborhoods.

"Wisdom is oftentimes nearer when we stoop than when we soar." ~ William Wordsworth

Last year we judged the city's Children's Community Gardens. Here are some of the stories to give ideas and inspiration for yourself or community:

Miss Vanoka Morris Smith and the kids of the Blaine School Strawberry Mansion were a shining example of showing kids how to be fit in body and mind, with teamwork and love. There were no treadmills or artificial exercise. All the kids involved got real fitness as a lifestyle. These inner city kids were well-behaved, disciplined, and educated. Each knew every plant, and information about them. The all-organic garden used heirloom seeds, vegetables, pollination by bees and butterflies, rotating beds to promote soil health, and complementary plantings to combat harmful bugs. They painted garden scenes on plant beds, picnic tables, and the tool shed. They learned discipline and got exercise and dignity by keeping all the areas clean.

"The highest reward for a person's toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it." ~ John Ruskin


At the Urban Nutrition Initiative in West Philadelphia, Debbie Harris's high school students created a health and life-enhancing school-wide program of cooking and nutrition that they call "personal and social change through food." Students get to keep the proceeds from their Farmer's Market, learn healthy social structure, get a high amount of functional physical activity, and the educational message that "Vegetables are cool."

"The philosopher who said that work well done never needs doing over never weeded a garden." ~ Ray D. Everson

St Paul's Church on Stenton Avenue began reclaiming a garden from a neglected site to encourage children to have reflection and contemplation outdoors. The garden joins their columbarium (low wall containing parishioners ashes), along with physical activity – a "prayground." They plan to incorporate garden plants and themes with their Sunday school teachings: kids will plant their prayers, and they will build small climbing apparatus with 'eight fruits of the spirit' on each of the eight rungs. Like life, their garden space is a work in progress.

"There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling." ~ Mirabel Osler

At the Beacon Summer Program at St. Sulzberger School, Crystal Martin teaches 8th graders botany using the garden and microscopes to see leaves and bugs. Built in a flood prone area, the garden is divided into three distinct "watershed" systems - country, suburban, and city - with different drainage systems. The different drainage clearly teaches the effect on the garden – three distinct garden looks and conditions result. Corresponding wall murals teach the crucial message of balancing need for water and drainage.

"Gardening and laughing are two of the best things in life you can do to promote good health and a sense of well being." ~ David Hobson, The Mad Gardener

Get inspired and think how you might like to get started. Young children can learn responsibility by having their own area near your shared area.
Babies can sit with you and play in the dirt. On a small level, children can start with sprouting mung beans on a plate (posts to come will show how) and plant a windowsill of seasoning herbs for healthier cooking. Older children can grow healthful chemical-free food and flowers for the table and instead of unhealthy offerings at bake sales. They can learn that good posture during movement is healthy, natural, and good exercise. Get library books on composting, small building projects, organic gardening, and beautiful use of space. Learn the simple elements of a Japanese rock garden or Zen garden, called karesansui. Use healthy bending with one foot in front of the other (how to lunge) and feet side by side (how to half-squat and why it is great). Breathe. Smile.

"We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives, so best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt, that peace and abundance may manifest for all." ~ Dorothy Day



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Urban site before reclaiming photo 1 by jared
CityGarden 2 photo by stu_spivack
CityGarden 3 photo by davidsilver
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About the Author


M.Ed, PhD, FAWM

Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.

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