Gardening sparks an interest in the fruits and vegetables they are planting, and in turn, the children are encouraged to both learn about and enjoy eating them. It also allows for a fun and interactive way to teach both children and their parents about the nutritional advantages of fresh fruits and vegetables while learning about the environment as well. Overall, the benefits of gardening are important for children to make healthy eating choices that have a lasting effect at home and in their community.
What starts as
An important lesson children learn through gardening is to recognize the significance of eating locally grown food. Why is locally grown food so important? For starters, it tastes better! In addition, when children are involved in gardening they learn about eating seasonally (eating food at the time it is at its peak of flavor). Eating locally grown food also cuts down on global warming. By growing and consuming locally grown produce, we eliminate the shipping and traveling that contributes to the formation of greenhouse gases.
Lessons learned from gardening with children extend well beyond just eating the harvest. Through this experience children develop valuable life skills such as improved self-esteem, patience, teamwork and a sense of responsibility. Planting and tending a successful garden demands many of these skills. The child is able to develop a sense of pride from tending a garden that starts as a seed and comes to fruition. This in turn, can foster an environmental awareness that leads to a healthy respect for nature and the community around them.
Education achieved through gardening with children can traverse many different subject areas in the classroom as well. There are ways to integrate the gardening experience into subjects such as math, reading/language arts and social studies. Teachers can include keeping an observation journal or writing poems as a component to gardening activities. Growth charts can be created to incorporate mathematics by measuring the plants in the garden. In addition, information about agriculture and farming techniques can be added as a part of social studies. These are just a few of the many ways to amalgamate the learning component and gardening experience.
PART 2 – Ways to Make the Garden Sustainable
How do we make school garden programs work? There are several sustainability factors that lead to gardening success. Community support, teacher training and student involvement are keys. Partnerships from community representatives make the garden experience more diversified and sustainable. Community involvement may be stimulated through flyers and social media outlets. It is also important to keep the community updated on the growth and success of the gardens with pictures and posters.
To keep these programs running, administrative support and teacher training are also essential. Administration can provide support through encouragement and funding. Due to the fact that teachers are the main source of implementation for these programs, it is important they receive proper training. Workshops and seminars should be offered to provide teachers with the basic information for planning and implementing a garden, along with instructions on how to transfer these skills to their students.
Introducing children to healthy cooking is a fun way to supplement the gardening experience. The Field to Fork Program is one example of a successful school garden program in Charlotte, North Carolina (http://charmeck.org/mecklenburg/county/HealthDepartment/MCFVC/Pages/fieldtofork.aspx).
The children plan, plant and harvest the gardens, and then attend a field trip to Fuel Pizza where they learn how to make veggie pizzas using the produce they have grown. They are not only learning how to grow their own produce, but they actually get to transform it to a food they love! This interactive approach keeps the children interested, all while having fun. Other fun ideas for theme gardens include: salad gardens, three sisters (corn, beans, squash), and plants of the world.
School gardens can be successful, if communities, school systems, and administrators commit the time and resources to them. Gardening has the potential to help solve a wide variety of problems that children face today. Not only does it cultivate life skills, it teaches environmental awareness, healthy cooking and healthy eating habits. What starts as a seed planted in a garden grows into much more than just a fruit or vegetable.
If you are interested in starting your own school gardening program, here are a few resources to guide you in your planning:
National Gardening Association- http://www.gardeningwithkids.org
School Garden Wizard: http://schoolgardenwizard.org
California School Gardening Network: http://www.csgn.org
Farm to School: http://www.farmtoschool.org
Mecklenburg County Fruit & Vegetable Coalition: http://mcfvc.charmeck.org.
PART 3 - Reviewing the Top Tips for Gardening with Kids
1. Involve the kids: Make sure the kids are included in all aspects of creating the garden from planning and planting to tending and harvesting.
2. Make it fun and educational: Allow the kids to work in small groups with specific tasks. Make sure they understand the process and importance of each task.
3. Keep daily tabs on the garden: Pictures, journals, and drawings are all great ideas that show the growing process.
4. Choose plants wisely: Choose colorful fruits and vegetables that are simple and easy for a child to plant, tend, harvest and eat.
5. Plan for the summer: Recruit volunteers to care for the garden during summer break.
Resources: References: www.kidsgardening.org; American Community Gardening Association: www.communitygarden.org. AM
Allison Mignery is a Registered Dietitian nationally and a Licensed Dietitian in North Carolina. Allison is employed with the Mecklenburg County Health Department’s Health Promotion Team in Charlotte, NC, where she works closely with Mecklenburg County’s Park and Recreation Department and Cooperative Extension to help build and sustain community gardens in the area. Allison’s series To Your Health shares recipes and articles focused on good health.