Educare gardens: Plant a seed and watch children grow

As fall gets underway, children and families at Educare schools are busy harvesting the last of the crops grown in each of their gardens. These gardens are an inspiring addition to the schools and provide new opportunities and experiences for children, families and staff.

A growing global movement has introduced gardening and other outdoor interactions into early childhood settings. Educare schools in Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Omaha, Arizona, Tulsa, Washington, DC, and Milwaukee have created garden programs to expose young children to the natural world and to help them answer the question, “where does our food come from?”

“Our garden was started to teach children and families about gardening and growing healthy foods in small spaces,” said Julie Ramsey, child development manager at Southwest Human Development, home of Educare Arizona. “Most of our families live in apartments and don’t have much space for gardening. Children have learned food doesn’t just come from the grocery store.”

Providing children the opportunity to explore the outdoors and how things grow

Gardening programs provide children, who may not have had much first-hand experience with nature or growing food, the opportunity to explore the outdoors and how things grow. They also offer opportunities for lessons in science, math, language, social interactions and cultures.

The gardens are a place of excitement for the children as they watch their plants grow and discover the wonder of dirt and worms. Teachers bring learning inside by incorporating food and gardening experiences into their classrooms. These activities captivate young children and help them learn how to be patient and commit to a long-term project that has both immediate and future rewards.

“The garden has provided Educare Kansas City children and staff with many wonderful experiences,” said Jessica Haremza, Educare Kansas City school director. “Teachers have been excited to watch as children learn and understand the growing process through their everyday interactions in the garden.”

Gardening at the schools builds the mind and the spirit—not only for the children but for the families and staff as well.

“It is really my ‘zen’ place. When I am having a tough day or just need a break, it’s a great place to go and just admire and to remind us of how simple things can be,” said Maegan Heimes, infant and toddler master teacher at Educare Omaha at Kellom.
The schools look for ways to incorporate and engage families in the gardening program.

“The children are so proud to show their parents what they helped to grow,” said Haremza. “The garden has also provided a platform for children and their parents to learn about new fruits and vegetables and to try them together.”

The schools created their gardens in part as a response to some families having limited access to fresh, affordable and nutritious food. Schools have made their garden harvests available to both families and school staff.

In addition, Educare Chicago initiated nutrition and cooking classes and Educare Arizona created a farmer’s market where children distribute their harvest to families.

Soon it will be winter and the gardening season will end for most of the school’s gardens. But this spring, children will be counting out and planting seeds that will become bountiful—and delicious—harvests next fall.