Five-year-olds don’t always want to eat their vegetables. But when they’ve spent time exploring a schoolyard garden and picking their own, eating vegetables is suddenly exciting. Call it a “Salad Celebration,” and orders for a “double-double black magic kale” start rolling in.
More than 160 children and parents a week enjoyed summer activities hosted by Green Thumbs this year at Winchester and Lord Dufferin Public Schools. Celebrating local food in our downtown eastside community meant trying new textures and flavours as part of learning how to identify edible plants and understand what makes them healthy for us. “I am a carrot,” said one 6-year-old, when told that he is what he eats. “I can always find this type of root in my fridge!”
Healthy food grows best in a healthy ecosystem, where biodiversity can thrive. Investigating worms and insects and how they build their homes in the Green Thumbs gardens was another popular summer activity. “I am certain that we are growing little green thumbs and a healthy community that appreciates the local environment,” said Food and Garden Educator, Ivanna Prots. “I believe we are raising the next generation to solve environmental problems.”
“I hope we can do the same program again next year,” one teacher wrote following a day in the garden. But one child said it best: “I would like to stay with Green Thumbs forever!”
Green Thumbs is deeply grateful to our 2014-2015 Food and Garden Educator, Ivanna Prots. As a Master of Science in Botany and Zoology with 10+ years of experience working with students of all ages and learning styles, Ms. Prots brought a respectful and empathetic teaching style and broad-based knowledge of environmental issues relating to soil, plants, animals, and insects to our garden and greenhouse programs. Experienced in both curriculum design and delivery for large and small groups, she is particularly gifted in using garden-and-art-based learning to open windows for students with special needs, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Ivanna Prots is off on new adventures, and we wish her the very best!
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By Marika MacLean
The children who came to Winchester Garden this past week have blown me away with their remarkable ability to absorb information and their willingness to learn. A goal of mine working at Green Thumbs was to foster independence in these young children. They are at the age where they stop being spoon fed and the transition into this newfound independence can be challenging. Through this program, children learned to take initiative by understanding where food comes from and how to grow it on your own.
For each program, we had set up three stations: a storytelling and planting station, a five senses station, and an investigation station. For most of the week I ran the planting station but I had the chance to work at the other stations as well to see how children learn in different circumstances. Most of these kids had never planted anything before, but were very eager to learn. I encouraged them to do each step independently but they often asked for my assistance. Over the week I acquired tricks to get them to do things on their own, such as glorifying the feat of autonomy so that each of them would be less reliant. At the end of the session I asked the children to summarize what plants needed to grow which I initially taught through reading a book called Michael’s Story. A few enthusiastic kids raised their hands and repeated the five components necessary to grow a plant: air, water, soil, sun, and space.
At the five senses station we went around the garden seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching plants. One kid had to check with me to see if the food was healthy before he ate it so that he would grow up strong. In my experience, the kids loved the taste of kale and currants and the smell of peppermint and rosemary. They stuck their hands out at me exclaiming, “More! More!” They were enthralled that a bush could hide so many bright red berries.
The children were incredibly engaged at the investigation station. One girl even said that she’d never seen a snail before! They spent ages studying the markings on a bee or counting the legs of a potato bug. They learned about the interconnectedness of all things and how tiny worms without any legs are capable of making soil for plants to grow.
As I taught the children, I began to learn from them. I discovered how effective the hands-on approach was for young children. I also saw how focusing on the children and their backgrounds in gardening was just as important as teaching them, because they might have something fascinating to share with the group. As I was presenting to them, I was just reciting information that I already knew, but this was all new to them so they welcomed it with unbiased minds. Their thoughtful inquiries motivated me to question things more deeply as well. A child’s mind is an ideal space to cultivate inspiring creative thoughts to look at the world differently. Gardening is a great way to encourage children to grow a better world.
Marika is a summer Garden Program Leader at Green Thumbs. She is an Environmental Studies Major at York University and enjoys reading, writing poems, and painting.
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