There is a real disconnect between many children and the food they eat. Real food does not just appear in a grocery store. Chicken does not come from the freezer section. Teaching kids where their food comes from gives them more appreciation for the work that goes into putting food on the table. The outdoors provides a learning environment like no other. Lessons outside encourage resourcefulness.
Getting out and interacting with the world teaches lessons the classroom is ill-equipped to teach. Watching a carrot grow from a seed to a tiny plant to something edible is fascinating. It is engaging, and, sometimes, it is hard work. Children are empowered by their ability to produce their own food, to create something from seemingly nothing. Getting kids off their bums and outside engaging with nature and the world does not have to be hard or a punishment. For many children, it is a reward they do not know they are missing out on.
With so many kids spending their free time indoors these days, a simple home garden can do wonders to get the family outside. A family garden teaches responsibility, curiosity, and generosity. Bugs abound in a garden, from worms to butterflies to spiders. Children learn the benefits of all these creatures while also learning which to avoid. They can take pride in the produce they grow for the table and experience the joy of sharing abundance with others.
Tending to the garden provides time breathing in fresh air and communing with nature. Gardening requires reaching and digging and pulling. All these things are great for the body. Stretching and using your body makes you feel better. Working with plants outside has been shown to boost moods and reduce stress. Children can burn off some energy running and playing outside without all the noise restrictions and rules that come with playing indoors.
Get outside with your family and plant a garden. If you don’t have a lot of space, use pots and planters. The vegetables will nourish your body and the hard work will nourish your soul. After working in your garden together, you can share a meal together. A meal that was produced by your own labors. There are few things more rewarding than growing your own food.
If you are unable to grow a garden or just want to supplement your own produce with more fresh foods, a farmers’ market is a great place to go. Children can learn about local foods, what grows in the area and what is absent. They can talk to farmers and learn about different farms. Even many adults aren’t aware of the seasonality of fruits and veggies. Taking a trip to the market can make both children and adults conscious of when certain vegetables are actually in season. The family can get a taste of freshness and choose the ingredients of their dinner together.
Kindergarten teacher Eliza Minucci has incorporated forest Mondays into her class curriculum. Her class gets immense value out of these weekly ventures to the woods. They have 10 minutes of quiet time before being allowed to explore. They build dams in the creek and create the letters of the alphabet using sticks. They learn about independence, teamwork, and to self-regulation.
CitySprouts is an organization that partners with public schools to introduce them to school gardens as a core element of education. Children can learn their colors by watching a flower garden grow. Some classes plant a pizza garden. At the end of the harvest, they have a pizza party. They measure the growth of plants over time. They learn about worms and insects of the garden and how to respect the environment.
Curriculums like these are not found at every school. Sometimes the benefits are not measurable, but they are apparent to an observer. Commissioning your school to develop a garden-based program is a great first step. Even if your child’s school is resistant does not mean you can’t play in the dirt at home.
Explore and dig and grow with your family. Discover the joy of producing food for your table. Many lessons can be learned by simply getting outside. Learn where your food comes from while enjoying the freshness of a true garden salad.