This summer, preschoolers at the Child Care Center of First Presbyterian Church of Asheville are trying an experiment. These four and five-year-olds are planting seeds to find out if they germinate better in soil or a wet paper towel. It’s part of a series of gardening and cooking lessons the school is offering as ASAP’s first preschool Growing Minds Learning Lab.
Five-year-old Karynne King is at the paper towel station with a handful of seeds. “I put tomato seeds on a paper towel and dipped the paper towel in the water! They’re going to grow into tomatoes,” she says.
Across the room, Zeb Waldrop wiggles his hands in the soil. “I like getting my hands dirty because that’s fun,” he says.”
Watching the seeds grow on the windowsill and planting them outside in raised beds is more than just fun at school. It’s also a hands-on way to enrich many aspects of education. Child Care Center program coordinator April Bosse explains that “gardening can touch on science; gardening can touch on language and literacy. It stretches across our whole entire curriculum.”
Yesterday, the preschoolers read a book about plants and made of list of the things plants need to grow. They’re also practicing questions they want to ask a local farmer when she visits their class this spring.
It doesn’t take a lot of funding or elaborate planning to make local food part of early childhood education, says ASAP Growing Minds’ coordinator Jessica Sparks-Mussulin. “With farm-to-school activities it can be very simple. It doesn’t have to be anything that complex. Like we saw today, planting seeds, just soil and seeds and cups and some plastic bags and you’ve got a farm-to-school activity happening.”
Preschool is an important age for creating positive relationships with healthy food, she says, and growing and eating new foods can sometimes inspire a whole family to change the way they eat.
“People often underestimate that kids are agents of change and these kids are going to go back to their families, whether it’s the gardening or the taste tests or the cooking or the food served at the center and they’re going to talk about it to their families and that has an impact,” says Sparks-Mussulin.
Child care program coordinator April Bosse has seen this first hand. “The kids eat brussels sprouts! They love them here. The parents will even call us and say ‘How’d you make the brussels sprouts today because my kid won’t stop talking about them and they ate them and I want to go home and make them the same way.’”
Bosse adds that it can take a few tries for a child to embrace a new food. “We’re also big on ‘just put it on your plate.’ If you’re not going to eat it, at least that brussels sprout made it on your plate. And maybe the next time you touch it and the next time you lick it and maybe you’re actually eating it by the end,” she says.
The kitchen staff works with local farms when they’re planning meals, both for the older kids and the babies. “Anything that the kids are having, they’re just roasting it up and pureeing it and making it into baby food. So the babies, our smallest learners here, are even eating local food,” Bosse says.
ASAP has resources for anyone who wants to bring local food into a child’s life. Start a school garden, volunteer in a classroom, cook at home with your family, or share the joy of gardening with kids in your neighborhood. Find lesson plans and resources for all ages at www.growing-minds.org