Friday, February 13, 2015

Learning From Garden to Table

I am excited to feature my first guest post on Growing Inch By Inch. 
I would like to welcome Tammy from Today's Play
We first connected through a Facebook group and the way she involves the children in mealtimes continues to be an inspiration to me. Here she shares photos of her home-based childcare and their experiences with gardening and mealtimes.

“Not having heard something is not as good as having heard it; having heard it is not as good as having seen it; having seen it is not as good as knowing it; knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice.” ~ Xunzi 

What do you remember from being in school when you were a child? Are there certain memories that stand out more than others? I remember the parts of school that I enjoyed, mainly recess and playing with my friends and just a handful of classroom activities that have always stayed with me. The first memory is from kindergarten when my teacher told us the story, The Little House with No Doors and No Windows and a Star Inside. She cut open an apple for us all to see the little star inside and I remember feeling inspired. The second memory that has stayed with me was in first grade when we were learning about Switzerland and my teacher brought in her fondu pot and we got to eat cheese fondu and I remember feeling trusted. My third memory was in second grade when we made butter by shaking little jars full of cream. I remember feeling involved.

Funny how all my vivid memories involved food but I think food can be one of the greatest resources for learning during childhood. 

I was fortunate to grow up with influences of farm life, gardening, raising chickens, canning, and lots of good cooking. Not all children get these experiences and even though it is obvious to us, adults, where food comes from and how it is prepared, it’s not obvious to a toddler or preschooler, if they have never been exposed to it. 

Gardening with children is simple, inexpensive, and extremely rewarding. My grandmother had a huge garden that she tended to into her nineties. I was fortunate to have that experience but a large garden with rows and rows of crops isn’t necessary for children to benefit from it. There are so many alternatives, even for those with limited space. We live in an urban suburban area so we have to squeeze in our gardening where we can. There are so many vegetables that are easy to grow and take up very little space or you can even try to fit corn in your garden like we did one year. 

Growing food with children is a wonderful learning experience and so is composting. The task of dumping the food scraps into the compost bin, is a favorite here. It’s really great to be able to show children the whole cycle of growing and decomposing and if you’re lucky, you might find something fun growing in your garden from your compost soil, like we did when gourds came up one summer. 

We love to cook and do about two to three cooking projects each week, sometimes more. Food prep is an easy way to get children involved. Children love to snap green beans, shuck corn, peel cucumbers, grate cheese, and chop vegetables. Cutting herbs is a great way for little hands to practice using scissors. We usually do a little sampling of the foods while we’re prepping. It’s a wonderful way to get children to eat vegetables or try new foods.

Cooking is a perfect opportunity to introduce children to various tools, vintage as well as modern. Using different kitchen tools is great for developing motor skills and getting a hands-on experience with how things work. Being part of the food prep and cooking process is filled with learning opportunities just as the meal itself is. Each day, a child sets the table for lunch which builds multiple skills such as math, specifically one to one correspondence, sequencing, positional understanding, and of course, a sense of pride. We have family style meals where the children serve themselves food and pour their own milk. 

Children are given the responsibility to choose which foods they would like to eat and the amount that is appropriate to serve oneself. Our meals become a very social time that are respectful to the children but also a time when children can be a little silly with each other. Over the years, I have seen different groups of children come up with various meal time “games” that are continuous and evolving. It is a peaceful engaging time and no child is ever rushed nor is a child ever expected to wait while the other children finish their meal. In addition to our family style meals, we sometimes have special meals when children have even more opportunity to make choices and take part in preparing their own food.

 And sometimes, the things we adults like the least are the things children like the best. Ending the meal with children washing their own dishes provides a wonderful sensory experience, a time to enhance motor skills, and again, a sense of ownership and pride. 

For more mealtime inspiration ... Dining Inspirations