Growing little green thumbs
In the winter of 2017, the YWCA Mel Wolf Child Development Center applied for and was awarded the competitive Governor’s Mini-STEM Grant for $2,000! This grant enabled us to begin a project we had longed for: a raised-bed garden. The mini-grant allowed us to install four raised beds. As a WV DHHR-certified Tier II child development center, we seek opportunities that allow children to learn through their environment. This includes offering chances for children to participate in hands-on learning experiences. Gardening is all hands-on and involves many different facets of learning for young children.
Gardening promotes preschool math skills including counting, predicting, estimating and basic addition and subtraction. For our after-school students, gardening helps with the concepts of area, length and perimeters, preparing them for future geometry skills. Gardening also promotes science objectives of classifying objects by groups, experimenting, drawing conclusions, seasons and environments and how things grow. Gardening is a great hands-on project for the children, as well. The children were involved in every stage of the process from preparing the soil to harvesting the finished product.
Another goal we set for the gardening project was to help children understand where their food comes from. Most children do not realize that food can be grown from the ground! They think that all food comes from a grocery store or a restaurant. Through this project, our children were able to gain an understanding of how to plant a seed and what happens to that seed when they take proper care of it. The children also learned about the health benefits of fruits and vegetables while doing physical work in the garden to promote physical well-being in conjunction with eating well.
The entire project was a collaborative effort. Once we had the funds to purchase the materials, we needed help putting the beds together. Students from Charleston Job Corps put all four of the beds together and put them into place for us. Once the beds were ready to go, we enlisted the help of the WVU Extension Services and their Youth Health Educator, Jessica Pollit. Jessica came to the Center and did an 8-week curriculum about nutrition and gardening with our 3-year-old preschool class, our 4-year-old preschool class and our after-school program. The curriculum Jessica used encouraged the children to try new foods and helped them understand how they could grow those foods for themselves, bringing our gardening mission full circle.
The children planted peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, strawberries, and red lettuce. Cucumbers were our heartiest plant this year, by far. Not all of our plants were successful this year and that provided a valuable problem-solving experience for the children, as well. We asked the children: what could we have done differently to help that plant grow? Overall, the children enjoyed going out to the garden daily to see what new food had grown, getting to pick it and then bringing it inside to taste it.
We are excited about the partnerships the garden project created while providing everyone a chance to learn new skills. We are already planning our spring crops!