Gardening and growing vegetables within an early years setting opens a myriad of opportunities and provides a host of benefits from problem solving to inquiry based learning. The interdisciplinary opportunities should not be discounted and the connection with nature, food and nutrients can abound. Understanding these benefits can add real purpose to planning and widen the outcomes for all.
Many children today tend to lack opportunities and even experience with the complexity of a natural ecosystem. Unsupervised play and exploration has greatly diminished, being replaced with TV’s, computers, after-school clubs or other organised events. Therefore, one significant benefit in children growing their own vegetables and gardening on a regular basis is an opportunity to development an understanding of, and respect for, nature. Research also suggests this connection has a therapeutic element and also develops greater mindfulness of our environment.
When we work with children, we become aware of individual learning preferences and plan opportunities that encompass these addressing children’s needs. Growing vegetables connects many different learners and facilitates a hands-on, active, experiential opportunity. As the environment itself is dynamic this is also immensely engaging for children and the direct, concrete connection is hugely stimulating.
Gardening and growing vegetables has huge overlap across the seven areas of learning and development in early years settings. There is an emphasis on communication and also personal, social and emotional development. Working with others is a key aspect of gardening and the scientific understanding of seeds, light, water and pests can generate many questions and within a real context begin to cement children’s understanding.
Working together as a nursery to grow vegetables can instill a huge sense of pride and achievement alongside the excitement and miracle of watching seeds become crops. Parents can also become involved and engaged and many will grow food at home too providing further enrichment. Establishing links with the community can also generate wider collaboration with local farmers and allotment users.
Food and Nutrition:
By "growing their own" children begin to understand the seed to crop process and research suggests they are more likely to make healthier food choices as a result. This may help to increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption ultimately impacting on their health and development. Chances to drip feed information about food and its benefits are also increased.
Where to start?
5 simple ideas to start growing vegetables at your nursery:
- Grow tomatoes in large pots.
- Grow courgettes in buckets, pots or directly into your nursery garden.
- Plant radish and carrot seeds.
- Grow potatoes from seed potatoes. These can be grown in a potato sack or large container. Try different varieties.
- In window boxes grow spinach and other salad leaves.
This is a real and purposeful educational experience for children, which would be a shame to miss. Some simple low maintenance options can be adopted or with the support of the parent body or the wider community a grander project can be initiated.
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About the author
The Food Teacher, Katharine Tate, is an award winning nutritional therapist, teacher, mum, and entrepreneur who has over 20 years experience working with children and schools in the UK, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. She has founded The Food Teacher brand that combines her passion for education and nutrition to deliver a healthy childhood, focusing on promoting family health through food and lifestyle.