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Adventures in Early Childhood: Let’s get our hands dirty

From Erin Carlson

Gardening season is finally here! In my summer preschool program, gardening is a huge part of our active outdoor learning, and the children love their role in creating a healthy crop of vegetables that all started from a tiny seed.

Children can benefit greatly from maintaining a vegetable garden. Gardening supports social development, scientific understanding, nutrition, physical movement, and much more. A successful vegetable garden requires a great deal of responsibility and patience, and it’s never too early to begin developing those qualities.

My preschool students begin planning their garden as early as February when the seed catalogs start appearing in the mail. When the time comes to begin serious planning, the children work together to decide which vegetables we should grow in our garden. Sometimes we try fun varieties of classics, like purple carrots or purple beans, and sometimes we just keep it basic and traditional. This year we will be planting carrots, beans, pumpkins, tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce (for our class pet, Olive the bunny.) Once we have our seeds picked out, it’s time to get our hands dirty! Allowing children to be a part of every step in gardening makes them feel like an important part of the process, and they can take great pride in the finished results.

The pumpkins are growing in our pumpkin patch with the help of the rich compost that we continually produce at preschool from our leftover produce scraps, leaves, grass, and water. For the rest of the vegetables, we have decided to do something a little unconventional this year. We will be experimenting with a straw bale garden instead of the traditional raised bed garden we’ve always maintained in the past. For those of you who have not heard of this technique of vegetable gardening, it is a method that is quickly gaining popularity. Straw bales that have been carefully conditioned and prepared to grow vegetables become the vehicle to produce a lush and plentiful crop. We planted our seeds this week, so now we will water regularly, fertilize, and wait.

Monitoring the process of a vegetable garden is a great lesson in science, and the long-awaited harvest time is very exciting. Although there is nothing better than enjoying a freshly picked vegetable that one can take pride in growing, it has been a tradition for my students to donate their entire crop to the local food shelf in hopes of helping those who may have a hard time affording nutritious produce on their own. It began as a suggestion from a big-hearted 4-year old boy in my program a few years ago. I share the story with my students each year as we make plans for our garden, and it continues to be an inspiration for them to make the same decision with their own crop. Knowing that their hard work is all done to help a stranger supports their sense of community and helps lay the foundation for a lifetime of kindness.

If you have a child in your life, consider keeping a vegetable garden with him or her this summer! Roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty this month, and relish in the positive bonding experience it provides along the way.

Erin Carlson is a licensed early childhood educator and owner of Silver Creek Early Learning Center, a nature-based pre-school program on Hwy. 61 outside of Two Harbors.