How Therapeutic Horticulture Nurtures Children and Youth: 6 Growing Benefits

Last month marked the launch of our online course, “Intro to Therapeutic Horticulture for Children and Youth.” In this article, our goal is to shed light on the reasons why Therapeutic Horticulture stands out as an exceptional form of therapy and to highlight its benefits for the younger generation. 

In an era where screens are everywhere, finding a genuine way to disconnect and engage with the natural world is more crucial than ever. For children and teens, therapeutic horticulture offers a perfect escape from the digital world, bringing them closer to nature while providing numerous developmental benefits. By engaging with soil, plants, and the outdoors, teens and children can explore the enriching experiences that nature uniquely provides, fostering growth and learning in a way that screens simply cannot replicate.

Let’s dive into how gardening can be a powerful tool for personal growth and well-being, especially for young people.

Table of Contents

6 Growing Benefits of Therapeutic Horticulture for Children and Youth

1. Therapeutic Horticulture as a Digital Detox

Therapeutic horticulture can serve as a digital detox and extends far beyond the mere reduction of screen time. Engaging with the environment through gardening allows for a reconnection with the physical world, promoting mindfulness and presence that is often lost amidst the digital chaos. This shift away from constant online stimulation to the measured, deliberate pace of natural growth offers significant mental health benefits, particularly for adolescents and teens at critical developmental junctures. 

Therapeutic horticulture cultivates a practice of mindfulness and patience, shifting attention from the instant gratification of digital interactions to the gradual unfolding of life in the garden.

2. Stress Reduction and Emotional Well-being

The calming activity of gardening, with its rhythmic and methodical routines of digging, planting, and watering, has been documented to greatly reduce stress and bring about relaxation. A study by Wells and Evans (2003) found that children with access to green views and environments experienced lower levels of stress, as indicated by salivary cortisol measurements. Their research suggests that even views of nature from home can have a calming effect on children’s stress levels 

For children and teenagers dealing with anxiety and emotional issues, Therapeutic horticulture  offers a peaceful retreat. The hands-on work with soil and plants provides a special way for kids and teens to express themselves without words, helping them explore and share their feelings in a supportive space.

Engaging directly with the garden allows for a deep form of expression and emotional healing, different from talking or writing. It’s an immersive experience that can calm the mind and lift the spirit. Watching the direct consequences of their effort—like seeing seeds grow and gardens come to life—gives children a real sense of success. This not only boosts their self-confidence but also teaches important life skills such as patience and the ability to bounce back from setbacks. The garden becomes a place of personal development, reflecting the ups and downs they face in life, and showing them the rewards of sticking with challenges and embracing change.

3. Physical Health and Sensory Engagement

Therapeutic horticulture is a great way for children and teens to get moving and to improve physical abilities like coordination, balance, and general fitness. Gardening involves a variety of movements that work the body in a smooth and beneficial manner, making it a suitable activity for people of all physical skill levels. It’s a gentle form of exercise that can be adapted to fit anyone’s needs, ensuring that everyone has the chance to participate and benefit from being active in the garden.

Additionally, therapeutic horticulture is a feast for all the senses, not just sight. It offers a variety of sensory experiences that wake up the senses—touching the soil, smelling the flowers, seeing the colors of the plants, hearing the sounds of nature, and sometimes even tasting fresh produce directly from the garden. These sensory interactions help sharpen focus, boost creativity, and increase awareness of the environment. Engaging with the garden in such an immersive way can help teens feel more connected to the natural world, sparking curiosity and a sense of wonder.

A study by Corazon et al. (2019) investigated the effect of nature walks on stress and mood in adolescents. The findings, published in the “Landscape and Urban Planning” journal, showed that participants experienced significant reductions in stress and improvements in mood following nature walks, highlighting the therapeutic potential of even short durations of nature exposure.

4. Learning and Cognitive Development

Therapeutic horticulture  turns the outdoors into an interactive, living classroom. It offers children and teens a unique chance to dive into hands-on learning across an array of lessons in science, math, language arts, and social studies.

For science, the garden acts as an outdoor laboratory where students can explore plant life, ecosystems, and the life cycles of various beings up close. It’s the perfect spot to see processes like photosynthesis in action, dive into the science of soil, and understand why biodiversity is crucial. Math becomes more tangible in the garden, with real-life tasks like measuring how far apart to plant seeds, calculating the area needed for different plants, or tracking plant growth rates.

Language arts benefit from the garden, too, offering a wealth of inspiration for writing projects, from detailed descriptions of plant species to personal reflections on the gardening experience. It also provides a rich setting for reading about topics related to plants, food, and environmental sustainability. In social studies, the garden opens up discussions on how different cultures use plants, the history behind gardening practices, and the role of gardens in community building and environmental care.

Research by Dadvand et al. (2014) in the “Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health ” explored the association between access to urban green spaces and the psychological well-being in schoolchildren. Their findings suggest that children living in areas with higher green space availability showed better cognitive development and lower levels of stress and behavioral issues.

5. Social Skills

Working on garden projects is a key way for children and teenagers to build important social skills that matter for both personal development and creating a stronger community. Everyone has to pitch in, share the workload, and aim for a common goal. This kind of team effort naturally leads to better teamwork, as everyone involved needs to talk things out, divide up the garden tasks, and back each other up to make sure their gardening project thrives. Learning to listen, talk things through, and sometimes make compromises is a big part of this, showing how important clear communication and understanding different viewpoints are when you’re trying to reach a goal together.

Moreover, gardening as a group does wonders for making everyone feel more connected. It turns a bunch of individuals into a tight-knit community with a shared mission. The garden becomes a place where everyone celebrates their wins and tackles challenges together, building a real sense of unity and belonging. This shared experience also helps empathy grow; as teens see the effects of their work on the garden and on their fellow gardeners, they get better at understanding and caring about what others are going through.

These moments in the garden really mirror the wider world of social interactions, offering lessons and values that teens can bring into other parts of their lives.

6. Environmental Responsibility

Therapeutic horticulture builds a deep connection between young people and the environment around them. This relationship goes beyond simply enjoying nature’s beauty; it’s a learning journey that dives into the importance of sustainability and biodiversity for keeping our ecosystems balanced. Through gardening, children and youth get a hands-on education on how ecosystems work, exploring the roles that plants, insects, and microorganisms play in keeping a garden thriving. This direct interaction with nature teaches them how everything in life is connected and the careful balance required to maintain it.

By engaging in activities like planting native plants, composting and saving water, participants pick up practical skills for living more sustainably. They see for themselves how their actions can influence their garden’s health and learn important lessons about cause and effect that relate to larger environmental issues. This kind of experiential learning sparks a feeling of responsibility and the belief that they can make a positive impact on their surroundings.

Furthermore, therapeutic horticulture helps young gardeners become more mindful of their environmental impact. As they become more in tune with nature, they start thinking more about how their everyday choices can affect the planet. This heightened awareness lays the groundwork for adopting environmentally friendly habits, such as minimizing waste, opting for sustainable products, and advocating for the protection of nature. Starting these practices early helps nurture a generation that’s aware of environmental issues and dedicated to protecting our planet for the future.

Online Learning: Intro to Therapeutic Horticulture for Children & Youth

For those interested in learning about therapeutic horticulture for this population, our online course, “Intro to Therapeutic Horticulture for Children and Youth,” provides an excellent foundation. Designed specifically for educators, parents, and professionals working with children and youth, this course offers comprehensive insights into how therapeutic horticulture can be integrated into your practice to enhance learning outcomes and foster a deeper connection for children with the natural world.

Check out this pre-recorded 30-minute Information Session with our Founder & CEO, Alexis, on the Intro to Therapeutic Horticulture Course to see if it’s the right fit for you!

  1. Wells, Nancy M., and Gary W. Evans. “Nearby nature: A buffer of life stress among rural children.” Environment and Behavior 35.3 (2003): 311-330
  2.  Corazon, Sus Sola, et al. “Stress recovery during exposure to nature sound and environmental noise.” International journal of environmental research and public health 7.3 (2010): 1036-1046.
  3. Dadvand, Payam, et al. “Green spaces and cognitive development in primary schoolchildren.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112.26 (2015): 7937-7942.