The East Valley JCC’s Early Learning Center launched a new Kid’s Gardening program this fall.
Since September, the center’s kindergarten class has been busy planting and maintaining their new garden, which is part of their curriculum.
This curriculum includes a literature component, where children learn about gardening, harvesting, farming and other related topics. The children also learn about where food comes from and what’s needed to make seeds grow. Throughout the school year, they will engage in activities that help them track the progress of their plants, including finding the root, measuring the plants’ growth and discovering buds. The program will also include a Hebrew component and teach about the importance of Tikkun Olam, repair of the world.
Other lessons that will be covered include the benefits of locally grown produce, photosynthesis, nutrition and helping to feed those in need.
In addition, the kindergarten students work with Chef Melinda McNeil of the EVJCC’s Challah Factory in a weekly cooking class, where they explore the concepts of “Farm to Table” and use produce from the garden whenever possible.
Another concept they study is “all-the-time” and “some-of-the-time” food, terms that come from the children’s TV show “Sesame Street.” The trend is to stay away from “healthy” and “unhealthy” labels, so children understand there is no value judgment; everything is OK to eat, just some things should be eaten more often, said Pam Morris, ELC director. “When working with the children, we have moved away from using the terms healthy and not-healthy so that every child can feel good about what their parents send them to eat.”
By involving the children in the care and harvesting of the produce, washing the vegetables and letting them sample and cook with the fresh ingredients, the center anticipates that it will help children take that first step in making healthier food choices.
Although the school has had a garden for about five years, using starter plants from local nurseries, this year’s program expands the project considerably. The children will be integral to the planning and care of the garden – and some of the starter plants will be from seeds they find in their own snacks and lunches. They will practice their writing skills as they create signs for the garden and practice their reading skills by creating plant journals with photographs and hand-drawn pictures to track the progress of their plants. They will also practice math skills as they measure and track their plants’ growth and expand their vocabulary both in English and Hebrew.
“Our garden project connects them to Judaism in many ways,” Morris said, including planting parsley and radishes to use on the Passover seder plate.
On a larger scale, “the children are learning the importance of Tikkun Olam — repair of the world,” she said. “They learn that growing plants is necessary to help provide clean air for us to breathe. They learn that we need to share our good fortune with those who don’t have as much by using some of our harvest for our monthly J-Box program. This is in conjunction with other monthly and weekly activities that we do as a whole community to repair the world.”
The garden is partially funded by a grant from the City of Chandler.