Most children love digging in the dirt, and educators are taking advantage of that by including a gardening component to their curriculum in increasing numbers.
“We pride ourselves on being able to provide nutritious, delicious homemade meals and snacks for our children attending our school,” said Darla Malouff, executive director of Riverhouse. “It just seems appropriate to provide a full circle of education for the children to participate in the growing process – learning hands-on about germination, photosynthesis, pollination and so much more.”
According to the Farm to School Network, Riverhouse is joining a growing trend of early education providers who are integrating gardening into their lessons and meal plans.
The network surveyed almost 1,500 early care and education sites in 49 states in 2015. The survey found preschool gardens meet two needs for young children – promoting a healthy lifestyle while decreasing the risk of childhood obesity, and providing experiential learning to help prepare students for kindergarten.
While those may be adults’ objectives, children of all ages enjoy mucking in the dirt and eating something they have grown themselves, said teachers who work with gardens.
Because Riverhouse works with children from 6-month-old babies to pre-kindergarten 5-year-olds, lessons vary based on the rapidly changing developmental stages in that period of life.
Many of the school gardens are done in collaboration with other organizations, and Riverhouse is no exception, partnering with Farm to Preschool and Healthy Community Food Systems and Durango Nursery & Supply with financial support from First National Bank of Durango.
Every garden at Durango School District 9-R’s schools is handled differently, district spokeswoman Julie Popp said. One challenge K-12 gardens have is taking care of the plants during prime growing season in the summer, when school is not in session.
Needham’s, which was started in 2007, is managed by the Garden Project of Southwest with help from the Colorado State University Extension Offices in La Plata County. The project held both a junior gardeners summer camp and work days on Thursdays during the summer.
“Our vision was to get students outside planting, tending to and harvesting their own food,” the Garden Project said on its website. “The fresh vegetables would go to neighbors, their own homes and the cafeteria, seeing it incorporated in their school lunches.”
The Needham garden has tripled in size since its beginning, with 24 vegetable beds, one for each classroom, six ornamental beds focused on teaching the school’s International Baccalaureate curriculum, picnic tables and rotating art and music pieces.
The Animas Valley garden is run by students and staff. And the Riverview garden is located not at the school but down the hill in the Ohana Kuleana Community Garden, another Garden Project location.