“Can we smush it?”
“Can we eat it?”
“My hands smell sooo good!”
“Can I go pick some more?”
“What will happen if we mix it with warm water?”
This is just some of the rich language and scientific hypothesizing heard during a recent gardening experience with a few of our four year old friends. We went out to our rosemary bush and cut several branches off to use in an activity related to our Five Senses theme. It was fantastic to watch the children cut the leaves off and mix them with water, smell their fragrant hands, taste the leaves and even drink water infused with the herb. They got a kick out of the “trick” I showed them to get the leaves off easily. One of the children asked, “Can we cut the other plant off and taste it?” The plant she asked about is peppermint! The smelling and the conversations that evolved during this activity were priceless.
This experience is extended when we visit the community garden at the back of our church’s property to see the vegetables and herbs growing. There are so many benefits for our youngest children as they interact and experience where their food comes from. Urban gardens are a great place for this to happen. Research shows that the path to encouraging healthy eating and reducing obesity rates among children can be greatly influenced by opening up our children’s perspective and knowledge about the source of their food. Children can be influenced to make good nutrition choices when they have access to urban gardens and are involved in all the steps, from composting and preparing soil, to planting and harvesting, cooking and eating. “The kids see where food comes from; there’s an immediate connection,” says Becca Fong, food and farms program director for Seattle Tilth.*
Equally as important as our children’s physical well-being is their emotional well-being. “Children learn about caring for each other from caring for nature,” Fong says. “The urban garden can be an entry point, and then kids can extend the experience to a larger base. Finding places where children can be involved in gardening can provide more than just opportunities to grow fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables. Gardening provides a way to interact with nature, people and the environment; to socialize and get to know your neighbors; to build trust and develop pride in what you have grown; to share stories successes and food with your friends, family and community. Gardening is good for the soul and good for your community.*
*Wanda Reed (Sept. 2013) Urban Farms Grow Healthy Eaters, www.seattleschild.com http://www.seattleschild.com/article/seattle-tilth-garden-tours-for-kids
*Jackie Brinkman (June 2012) New research on community gardening reveals the roots of emotional and physical health, www.ucdenver.com http://www.ucdenver.edu/about/newsroom/newsreleases/Pages/Newresearchoncommunitygardeningrevealstherootsofemotionalandphysicalhealth.aspx
Photo credits to Jami West.