Getting a Head Start in the Garden

This year, KidsGardening entered into an exciting new initiative with the National Head Start Association and The Scotts Miracle–Gro Foundation to grow healthy kids through early childhood education gardens – The Gro More Garden Grant program. Designed to bring the life-enhancing benefits of youth garden programs to at-risk youth across the country, the grants will support the creation of edible gardens in Head Start Centers to teach kids and their families about the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables while also helping increase their access to fresh, local produce. What a great addition to a program that is already making incredible contributions to the education of our youngest learners and their families (check out these amazing impacts of the Head Start program).

Although the grant funding is limited to Head Start organizations, the partners are working together to create resources that can support all early childhood educators working to implement garden-based programs in their classrooms. Some of the supporting materials include:

- Quarterly Webinars. We are hosting quarterly webinars focused on creating sustainable, early childhood garden programs. Our most recent webinar on February 13th was on Creating Edible Garden Programs to Support Nutrition Education. Click here to view past webinars or sign up for future events. Our next webinar will be on May 15th on The Therapeutic Value of Gardening for Children.

- Online Resource Toolbox. We have compiled links to some of our favorite early childhood education resources on a special landing page to help ease your search for additional support. Check out our new Early Childhood Educator Resources Page.

- SEEDS Curriculum. The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation and Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center have partnered to create a wonderful new curriculum just for early childhood educators with activities for Tiny Gardeners (infants and toddlers) to Garden Guides (Grades 1 to 3). This comprehensive (72 learning activities -Wow!), free resource is available at: https://scottsmiraclegro.com/foundation/seeds.

From my perspective, when it comes to planting the seed of gardening, the earlier the better. As a parent and an educator, I have always been amazed (and honestly, slightly overwhelmed from a parent perspective) at the growth and development that takes place in the first 5 years of life and the importance of providing nurturing environments, that is why I am so thrilled to be part of an effort to meaningfully help support all of the educators and parents dedicated to getting our youngest learners out into the garden.

Beyond reaching our youngest gardeners, The Gro More Garden Grant Program is part of The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company’s Gro More Good initiative that is committed to helping connect 10 million children (yep, that is 10 million) to the benefits of gardens and greenspaces by 2023. With nonprofit partners Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, KidsGardening, Major League Baseball, National Farm to School Network, National Head Start Association, National Recreation and Park Association, and No Kid Hungry, the potential to grow a greener, healthier generation who loves to garden has never looked brighter.

Strategic School Garden Planning

strategic garden planning

Yesterday I received an email request from a teacher I work with: “Do you have some time to come talk with our staff about making strategic plant selections for our school garden?” I immediately began compiling some recommendations and helpful guidelines to present to teachers at an upcoming meeting. I thought I’d share some of this advice in today’s blog; below you’ll find a list of questions I encourage folks to consider before putting any seeds or starts in the ground:

  • What is the purpose of your garden this growing season? Is it to use as a outdoor classroom and demonstrate life science concepts in action? Is it to attract pollinators? Is it to grow food that can be used in the school cafeteria or in classroom cooking activities? Do you want to donate produce to families or a local food bank? I think this is a key question that will guide the rest of your garden planning, informing both the varieties and quantities you’ll plant.
  • How much space do you have? I’ve worked with many schools where each classroom is assigned a single small garden bed. Often times these garden beds are overflowing with plants—ten carrots here, six radishes there, two kale plants, a smattering of flowers, and sprawling cucumber vines spilling over the sides of the bed or slowing choking out the rest of the plants. If you have limited space it may be tempting to cram as much into your garden bed as possible (especially if your class is having a hard time deciding on a single veggie), but remember that cramped quarters often lead to stunted growth. Even if you decide to go with one variety, be sure to leave the proper amount of space between plants so that they can grow to their full potential.
  • What will happen to the garden over the summer? For many schools, the bulk of the growing seasons falls during summer vacation, and it’s essential to answer the following two questions: 1. Do you have reliable summer maintenance? 2. Do you have a plan for produce over the summer? If you answer “no” to both questions, then I’d highly recommend planting low yield, low maintenance crops, such as carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, etc. Once these crops are in the ground they simply require regular watering and occasional weeding. They’re not like tomatoes, which require frequent pruning and continual harvesting during the height of the summer.
  • When do you want to harvest? While it’s exciting to plant with students the second the conditions are right, consider timing first. Vegetables grow at different rates. Some, like leaf lettuces and radishes, only take a few weeks to reach maturity, while others, such as potatoes and squash, take significantly longer. For example, if you plant cucumbers before the end of the school year, they’ll be ready to harvest in the middle of the summer when no one is around, but if you wait until later in the summer to plant then your cucumbers will be ready for students when they return to school in the fall. Consider your ideal harvesting date and work backwards (using the “days to maturity” information often found on seed packets) to figure out the right time to direct seed or transplant.

strategic garden planningstrategic garden planning

Let’s Grow Love!

Grow love

We all know gardens are fantastic learning laboratories in which to teach kids about nutrition, the environment, science, math, and many other subjects. But on this Valentine’s Day, as I have love on my mind (and in my heart) I’m reflecting on all the ways that gardening also nourishes the soul. So today, I’d like to talk about the mushy stuff (and no, I don’t mean compost).

Empathy. Compassion. Pride. Teamwork. These are a few of the words that come to mind when I think about how we use gardens to teach and grow love in kids.

I’ve written before about the importance of allowing children time outside to develop empathy for and a connection to nature. Watching and caring for a delicate plant as it grows from seed to harvest instills in kids a sense of empathy and compassion, of the interconnectedness of nature and their responsibility (as a part of it) to care of it.

Children take great pride in the process of nurturing their plants, in seeing the fruits of their labor, and being able to share their bounty with others. They learn to believe in themselves and to trust their instincts. We’ve heard from many educators that it’s often the children with the most difficulty in classroom settings who really thrive in the garden. This can be a tremendous source of self-confidence for children who might otherwise be struggling in school.

Working together and sharing responsibilities in the garden also teaches kids about cooperation and teamwork. It teaches communication, as well as respect for the diverse skills and perspectives that others can bring when working toward a common goal.

Empathy. Compassion. Pride. Teamwork. You’re nurturing these traits in kids just by providing an opportunity for them to get outside and learn in the garden, whether or not that’s the intention of the lesson. And for that, we thank you. The world could use a little bit more love right about now.

I want to send you off this Valentine’s Day with a note we received from a nine-year-old gardener during last year’s KidsGarden Month Dream Big contest:

In my dream garden, we grow love. Love in the flowers that makes everyone happy with their beautiful smell and colors. Love that grows in delicious and healthy veggies and fruit. My dream garden is for everyone, because everyone is happiest in a garden, and one of my dreams is to make the world a happier place for all forms of life. Kids will run around and feel free. Babies and caterpillars are happily crawling around my garden. They will both eat and grow big!! Then they will both take naps when they are full in beds made of lavender.

I don’t know about you, but a bed made of lavender sounds like my dream garden.

Flower Printing

flower printing

Last time I blogged, I told you all about the amaryllis I planted with my kids! I’m back with another amaryllis craft, but this one involves a meat mallet.

After our amaryllis bloom began to fade, I cut off the stalk. The flower still looked to have some life in it, and I immediately thought of the leaf and flower print activity we added to our website a few months ago. In the middle of winter, you bet your garden spade I’m going to squeeze every last bit of life out of a flower!

flower printing
Hammering with an improvised mallet.

The material list for the activity is pretty simple, but I couldn’t find my rubber mallet. I am thinking it’s tucked somewhere in the garage and honestly it was too cold to root around in there hunting for it. So instead I wrapped some wool felt around a meat mallet and let my 7-year old have at it.

She had two flowers to work with, and for the first, she picked off all the petals and rearranged them into a flower shape on the fabric. (See header image above.)

For the second, she just laid the bloom down and hammered away to see what would happen.

flower printing
Red flowers blooming, but purple pigments printing!

Here’s what I found to be most fascinating about this activity – the prints turned out purple! The amaryllis flowers were very bright ruby red. I’m sure there is a fascinating scientific explanation for this. If you have theories - or facts! - of why this happened, please share in the comments.

Here’s my review of this activity: I would DEFINITELY do it again. I would, however, use fresh flowers instead of somewhat mushy faded ones. I’d also use a variety of flowers and leaves instead of just one. We’ll repeat this one in the summer when we have more flower to choose from!

flower printing
Carefully placed amaryllis petals.

A wilted amaryllis flower, hammered by a 7-year-old.