In partnership with an engaged and committed member of our community, Shel Swanson, All Our Kin has implemented an exciting new pilot program that supports family child care providers as they teach children about healthy eating and the natural world. The initiative creates organic gardens in the homes and backyards of family child care providers in greater New Haven, providing a fun, hands-on way to get children outside and to teach children about where their food comes from. The gardens also furnish providers with a sustainable source of nutritious and delicious produce that they can share with children and families who may be unable to afford fresh produce otherwise.
As teachers of our youngest and most vulnerable children, family child care providers play a crucial role in providing children, especially low-income children, with a healthy start in life. Currently, due to a combination of poor nutritional education, lack of exercise, and the high cost of produce and other healthy foods, over twenty percent of low-income children in Connecticut are obese by their fourth birthday. A large number of children consume half of their daily calories at school, and for many children this food may be the only food they regularly eat. As Michelle Obama notes in her new “Let’s Move” campaign, in order to eradicate childhood obesity, caregivers must play a key role in not only making healthy choices for children, but in teaching children and families how to make healthy choices for themselves. They can help children and families learn how to eat healthy, exercise, and explore the world around them on a budget.
Two of our family child care providers now have gardens in their backyards, raised beds full of delicious produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers, collard greens, lettuce, melons, strawberries, chives, and basil. Planted as seeds only a few weeks ago, they have already sprouted tiny leaves and berries. One of the providers, P. Marie, gushed about how exciting it was to have a garden and how much she – and the children – enjoy working in it. P. Marie said the garden project has inspired an entire curriculum around nutrition, food production, and the natural world. “The possibilities are really endless,” she said. And they must be, because even as she talked about lesson plans she had already created she imagined new possibilities, such as doing experiences and activities involving insects and the role they play in keeping gardens healthy and pollinating flowers.
Our partner, Shel, said the project was partly inspired by her young daughter, who is a natural in the garden. “I realized that learning how to garden, how to grow your own food, how to be comfortable in nature, and how to cook with your own food isn’t something that comes naturally but that is taught, and taught from a young age.” Shel talked about how exciting it is that the project will expose more children to gardening and give children access to fresh produce, which is difficult to come by for children who live in “food deserts”- geographic areas where healthy food is difficult to obtain – and for low-income children whose families might be unable to afford produce.
All Our Kin is very excited about the possibility of expanding the project; building new gardens in the backyards of other family child care providers, training family child care providers on how to build curriculum around the gardens and engage families in the garden projects; and providing coaching, mentorship, and modeling, through All Our Kin’s educational consultants, on how family child care providers can create extended learning opportunities that capture children’s natural curiosity and wonder about the natural world and support social and emotional development, literacy, math, and scientific inquiry.
Be sure to check back in August for an update on the garden project. And to see the gardens overflowing with fruits, vegetables, and herbs!