Today, parents and teachers face endless challenges in raising their youngsters: the threat of childhood obesity, the relentless onslaught of marketing to kids resulting in a sharp preference for junk food, a global environment that seems to be getting more and more toxic and unpredictable, and so on. One simple idea that can be a positive step towards addressing many of these issues is: School Gardens. Keeping in mind the space and resources available, a garden can be set up in the schoolyard in the soil (if it is rich and nutritious enough) or in raised garden boxes, or even in small recycled containers. Plants (herbs, fruits, vegetables, flowers) that are appropriate to the region can be grown. Children can start digging and sowing and watching as their garden takes shape. Parents, teachers and gardening experts can lend a helping hand and enjoy the garden alongside the kids.
Imagination runs wild when it comes to school gardens! Themed gardens are very popular: some of the ideas I came across were a butterfly garden, planted with nectar plants; an herb garden with a selection of aromatic herbs used in different cuisines; a rainbow garden planted with flowers of the appropriate colors planted in rows or arcs; and my favorite idea of all- a pizza garden planted with all the delicious vegetables that go into pizza- tomatoes, garlic, basil, and perhaps some toppings like zucchini and eggplant!
School gardens have benefits that touch upon every aspect of the child's development. When a whole class comes together to create a garden, it arouses a sense of community and an understanding of teamwork. The physical activity involved in taking care of the garden provides some welcome exercise and outdoor time spent away from the TV and computer screen. Most parents complain of children who refuse to touch vegetables and fruits- but the school garden experience shows that children are eager to taste the produce that is grown with their own hands, which could be the beginning of a lifetime of healthy eating habits. Eating a tomato fresh off the vine may well the first taste of "real food" for a lot of kids who live on a steady diet of processed food. From an academic standpoint, a school garden provides a unique hands-on learning experience in every school subject that one can think of: ecology (eg. learning about the interplay of plants, pollinators and pests), geography (eg. learning about climate, weather, and soils), botany (eg. studying the birth of a whole plant from a seed), history (eg. learning about how the origins of plants and how they "traveled" across the world), writing skills (eg. keeping a gardening journal). Perhaps the most important benefit of school gardens would be to make the child a better citizen of the world by cultivating earth-friendly attitudes: by completing the gardening cycle with a compost heap, or by setting up rain barrels and learning about water conservation. Indeed, the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, California, started by Chef Alice Waters, has pioneered the integration of organic gardening into every aspect of the school curriculum. School gardens are a blessing everywhere, but they can truly transform schools in communities that are troubled by crime. Here, school gardens can provide a safe and pleasing haven to children, teach them valuable life skills, and give them a green space of their own. Studies by the National Gardening Association depict the heart-warming results of having school gardens- read their evaluation here.
For parents and teachers who want to take the lead in setting up school gardens in their own schools, there are many resources that you could turn to. The Edible Schoolyard hosts a wonderful resource page that could be a good starting point. Of course, search engines will provide many other pages of useful information on the internet. One could also use local know-how by contacting the garden clubs, botanical gardens and nurseries in the area. Libraries can be counted upon for books related to gardening and local flora.
Of course, if the idea of starting something on a school-wide scale in not possible, one can always start gardening with kids in the home. It could begin with a simple project such as planting flowers in window boxes outside the child's room in spring, or planting a kitchen garden in summer. On a big scale or as a small venture, gardening with kids is a fruit ful activity that is sure to blossom into good times and happy memories!
A big THANK YOU to Meeta for inviting me to join the team at the Daily Tiffin. I'll be back next month with an article on Kids with Cameras. See you then!
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