We all benefit from having something to nurture — maybe now more than ever, if the spike in dog adoptions during the pandemic is any indication. And putting them in charge of caring for another living thing is a great way to teach kids responsibility and empathy (with your help and guidance to keep it alive, that is). But if welcoming a new furry family member into your home isn’t in the cards right now, there’s another way we can give our kids a nurturing experience — with a “pet” plant.
Plants have been shown to offer their caretakers loads of health benefits: They reduce stress, they may increase feelings of well-being, they can improve air quality, and they might even make you more productive. (Plus, they don’t pee all over the floor.) That’s why Veronica Moore, a blogger and plant therapy advocate in Eastern Pennsylvania, helped spearhead a program in her local school to bring 300 plants to pre-kindergarteners and teachers.
As Molly Bilinski writes for The Morning Call:
Plants mean a lot to Moore, who used them as a healing tool, along with traditional therapy, after her sister died unexpectedly in 2018, she explained. During shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, she started getting plants from local sellers and noticed [her daughter] Hunter, 4, was really interested in them, too.
“She was having a hard time not being able to see her friends, not being able to go to school and really kind of transitioning to that place of ‘What do I do?’ ” Moore said. “It was a really hard transition for her as well. So we took care of our plants together.”
Caring for plants can also help teach kids about problem-solving, because inevitably, they’re going to forget to water a plant for a week or they’re going to love on it too much and overwater it. When you can see a plant’s health is declining (for this example, let’s say your child has named their plant “Freddie,” because they can — and should — name their plant), it’s an opportunity for the family to do a little research together to figure out how to nurse sweet Freddie back to his former happy, healthy self.
If Freddie gets too big for his pot, you can replant him together and talk about how that means he is growing and flourishing, just like them. And if, on the other hand, Fred is too far gone and must be laid to rest, you can still use the situation as a chance to regroup, talk about what worked and what didn’t — and then try again with Freddie #2.
If you’re not much of a plant person yourself, Gardening Know How offers these suggestions as solid starter plants for kids (with links to each for more care information):
Snake plant: Low light and water requirements with long, interesting leaves that come in a range of patterns.
Spider plant: Low light and water requirements. These plants put out small hanging plantlets that are fun to look at and easily transplanted for an interesting project.
African violet: Very low maintenance, these plants bloom reliably and have soft, fuzzy leaves that are fun to touch.
Aloe vera: Low water needs. These plants are interesting to touch and can be soothing to irritated skin. Put them in a bright window.
Sensitive plant: An interactive plant that kids will love touching.
Venus fly trap: Carnivorous plants are cool no matter how old you are. A little harder to care for, these are better for older children.
And in the meantime, if you want to add a little soothing plant therapy to your Instagram feed — and I suggest you do — Moore has an account dedicated to all things plant at @brownskinplantmama. I’ve also been following @blackplantchick’s account for a few months and it is lovely and good, as is her podcast, Black Plant Chick Pod, if you’re looking to learn more about plant care.