“The Garden Project has helped me enormously in terms of the quality and education I offer to children and families in my program.” –All Our Kin Provider
Providers, families, and friends recently gathered at Common Ground to celebrate the final weeks of this year’s All Our Kin Garden Project. Over the course of the growing season, a total of thirteen family child care providers had educational raised bed gardens installed and planted at their homes by the School Garden Resource Center (SGRC) crew, comprised of Common Ground high school students, and two more providers continued to receive support for the gardens they had installed last year. Since June, consultants from All Our Kin and Common Ground regularly visited these providers to help them maintain their gardens and use them as tools for teaching and exploration. This workshop was a joyful meeting that offered providers and families alike the chance to share the fall harvest and talk about all that providers and children have learned from the project over the last six months.
The day kicked off with activities for families, including barnyard music performed by Rockasorri, and a tour of Common Ground’s children’s garden. The coordinators of the Garden Project spoke to parents and providers about the benefits of educational gardens, including the value of being outside, knowing where food comes from, and eating healthy vegetables. They also thanked the families in attendance—about 15 families involved in the project—for their willingness to participate in the program, even when it sometimes meant doing some extra muddy laundry!
In the afternoon, providers gathered for a workshop to share their experiences in the Garden Project thus far. Every provider presented to the group, and many had prepared beautiful posters and scrapbooks showcasing their experiences. Some brought binders with curriculum and activity ideas, and one participant wrote a poem about her experience with the project (see below). The providers also shared the bounty from their gardens at a produce table.
In their presentations, providers described the many ways that the gardens have been used as the centerpiece of educational experiences over the last year. One provider called the garden a “beautiful tool” that increased physical activity and taught children to respect and care for plants while learning about food. Providers read stories with children in their programs about vegetables and fruits, sang songs about garden-dwelling critters like ladybugs, and prepared menus featuring garden produce. One provider created a market day for children to set up and “buy” and “sell” the vegetables they helped grow, including making a sign showing if the market was open or closed, which helped with the transition when it was time to move on to another activity.
Participants in the project agreed that the gardens encouraged children to spend more time outdoors, with one provider reporting that the garden created an opportunity to “go out sometimes 2 to 3 times a day for discovery and exploring!” Another described how the garden had changed her daily routine: “Before we went outside only to play or run, but now we go to care for the garden, to water it, to weed it, and to explore the other areas close to the garden.”
Providers have used the garden project to inspire healthy eating habits. Many providers shared the discovery that “if it comes from the garden, they will eat it.” “Now I do more cooking activities,” one provider said, “because I have the vegetables accessible and ready to explore!” The kids in another provider’s program walk around eating fresh string beans—and have even refused to eat them when they’re cooked and seasoned rather than raw.
The gardens have also helped providers and children gain a knowledge of and respect for the environment, including weather, seasons, and the growing cycle. “The kids learned about nature and came to understand the plant growing process,” noted one provider. Another said that she enjoyed the happiness of the children in her program when they discovered “the different textures and tastes of the plants.”
Providers described other benefits related to the gardens, like increases in children’s vocabularies (especially the names of unfamiliar garden objects like watering cans and trowels) and children who overcame their fear of bugs by visiting the gardens. One provider even said that a child in her program had more attention and concentration for other projects after spending time in the garden.
After providers had a chance to share their experiences with the gardens, the day concluded with three mini-workshops. At a workshop on harvesting and preparing fall produce led by SGRC team member Jesse Delia, providers tasted healthy kale chips, raw tomatoes, sautéed chard, and other fall snacks. In a fall planting workshop, Common Ground garden educator Diane Litwin discussed a fall planting plan with providers and showed them how to recognize when a plant is done producing. Dana Holahan, All Our Kin’s Professional Development Coordinator, led a workshop on being outside with infants and toddlers. She focused on the power of gardens to calm babies and provide them with sensory stimulation. Providers in the workshop even had the chance to lie on their bellies by the gardens to see the outdoors through the eyes of an infant or toddler!
The providers left the workshop excited about the prospect of replanting their gardens in preparation for another year of exploring, cooking, and learning. “I will definitely continue with the garden,” one provider said, “because I know that the experience has been so enriching and means as much for the children as it does for me.”
What I Have Learned From My Garden
by Viola Waldo
I have learned from my garden that plants are like children.
They need to be carefully planted and tenderly nurtured.
They need a good foundation for their roots and support to help them grow strong.
They require rich nutrients, water, and the sun on their faces.
Some grow fast, some grow slow, some grow short some grow tall, some grow wide, some grow narrow.
They are amazing to watch grow and turn into something spectacular.
They thrive with time, patience, and space to become what they are meant to be.
With love, they will blossom into a thing of beauty.
If you pay close attention you will see the exquisiteness of each and every one.
Some grow with imperfections but this just makes them unique and special.
They depend on us to take care of them.
They will fail to grow if they are not taken care of properly and will be stunted if they grow in the shadows of obstacles.