We celebrated our child’s birthday with her friends last weekend. At every holiday, inevitably someone asks a child what gift she is wishing for. It’s times like that’s where it becomes abundantly clear that we don’t watch kids TV. My child has no idea what toy she would like; even the concept of directing a purchase is still a bit new.
So, when the inevitable question came during the party, the Kiddo took a moment and thought hard. “Berries,” she said. “Strawberries, blackberries and blueberries.”
It would have been easy enough to go buy them (imported) at the grocery store. And, likely I will do just that. But, I also ordered her the plants for her own “teaching” garden. Perhaps not the usual gift for a three-year-old, but I have a feeling she will love it. She already helps water and plant herbs. This season, we will grow plants from seeds indoors as well.
Teaching gardens are one of the more innovative approaches to hands-on learning and getting kids to embrace real foods again. Personally, I think it would be great if such a tool were a mandatory part of public education, just like PE. But, waiting for schools to catch up and do something innovative in a “No Child Left Behind” system could be a long wait. The teaching garden will have to be our backyard.
What can kids learn from a garden? Quite a bit, if you take a look at the curriculum suggestions that can be tied to a school garden project. Life science questions like “How do plants reproduce? How do seeds work?” can be explored by even the youngest of gardeners. Older gardeners can explore topics like photosynthesis or how plants adapt for survival, or the role of bees in pollination. Earth sciences like weather can be introduced along with food webs.
Math concepts can be used in planting to divide the rows, or measure growth, or determine planting dates. Nutrition and healthy cooking are, of course, part of the process. But even the history of the plants and the cultures of people who grow different varieties are great topics. Art and language can even play a part in the learning. Children can write and illustrate a garden “story” or read books about gardening. Art projects can include seed mosaics or leaf art. The topics are nearly as endless as one’s imagination.
Beyond education, this hands-on approach to growing food and then helping prepare those foods has been shown to increase children’s interest in eating vegetables and in the importance of nutrition.
In addition to strawberries, we’ll plant greens like kale and chard and lettuces, romanesco cauliflower; Roma green beans, shell peas like Crowder and a couple other heirloom varieties; and the stock of various tomatoes, pumpkins and squash seeds I have been saving. And strawberries. Lots and lots of strawberries.
For more information about starting a school or home garden, here are some helpful resources:
School Garden Network
[This post was written by Beth Bader.]