Snow in April? A garden workout for kids? Why not?

A study in the October 2013 issue of HortTechnology called (bear with me) “The Metabolic Costs of Gardening Tasks in Children” linked two topics in my mind that have been growing in the national consciousness: the physical health of kids in the U.S. and the increasing call for an increased STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) focus in education. Parents and educators are as concerned as ever that kids have access to healthy meals and ways to exercise. Simultaneously, parents and educators are looking for resources and avenues to help kids become interested in the sciences.

What if there is an activity for kids that can promote healthy eating habits, boost physical fitness, and support a fun introduction to a STEM education? What would be such an activity? Read on.

Parents and educators are not alone in worrying about the eating and exercise habits of kids in this nation. The First Lady’s initiative Let’s Move! was formed to address these concerns: “Let's Move! is about putting children on the path to a healthy future during their earliest months and years…Providing healthier foods in our schools. Ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. And, helping kids become more physically active.”

Note the key phrases: “healthy future,” “healthy, affordable food,” and “physically active.”

Now take a skip, hop, and a jump to another .gov web site titled Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math: Education for Global Leadership that informs the public about the initiatives with respect to STEM: “The Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM)…will facilitate a cohesive national strategy, with new and repurposed funds, to reorganize STEM education programs and increase the impact of federal investments in five areas: P-12 STEM instruction; increasing and sustaining public and youth engagement with STEM; improving the STEM experience of undergraduate students; better serving groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields; and designing graduate education for tomorrow's STEM workforce.”

Note the key phrases “P—12 STEM instruction” and “increasing and sustaining public and youth engagement with STEM.”

At this point in my research, being a health-conscious, physically active, and well-educated STEM kid is sounding about as fun as the beach on a rainy day.

However, one answer to how we go about giving kids healthy meals, physical exercise, and an interest in STEM, may not require reinventing the wheel.

The answer I am talking about is gardening, which to young ears can sound BORING. However, gardening has been gaining in popularity, sprouting up as an activity for all ages with gardens being cultivated outside of schools, on urban rooftops, and in community gardens across the country. Furthermore, gardening can offer both the benefits of physical exercise for kids, promote healthy eating habits, and provide an introduction to science.

What may seem like simply playing in the dirt can provide hands-on experience for a love of science to take root and a way for kids to exercise and, to take it a step further, even learn to grow healthy food for consumption. That’s a lot on a garden’s plate; but I think gardening can provide all three benefits for kids.

And as I watch it snow in April, it occurs to me that it would not be wise to shrug off the importance of learning how to garden at a young age. After all, the STEM is a part of a plant.

Shannon Mullally is an editor for School Zone Publishing, 
in Grand Haven, Mich. She has a doctorate in English and Creative Writing. Her Twitter handle is @SMMullally. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent those of her employer.