When preschool teacher Tonya Langston first asked the children in her Bowling Green, Florida, classroom where milk came from, their response was: “the kitchen.” When she asked them where a banana comes from, same answer: “the kitchen.”
Langston’s students are young—3 or 4 years old—but because they’re the children of professional migrant farmworkers, Langston and her fellow teachers wanted to teach them more about what their parents do, and why it’s important.
To help them understand the impact of their parents’ work, every child in the East Coast Migrant Head Start Project has an opportunity to get their hands dirty on a daily basis in a school garden that’s planted and tended by the students.
“It’s important for children to understand where their food comes from,” Langston says. “To be able to put food on the table that they grew? That’s exciting for a child. It gives them a sense of accomplishment, of pride.”
Giving kids a Head Start in life
The East Coast Migrant Head Start Project is part of a nationwide program made possible by the Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation, designed to help children and families living in at-risk communities access fresh, healthy food. Through the Gro More Good Garden Grants initiative, young children like those in Langston’s classroom receive typical public-school prep, but they also learn where carrots come from—and how to grow them.
According to Dora Sanders, M.Ed, a Head Start administrator, getting kids involved in gardening “not only enhances our curriculum, but helps promote healthy eating and living. In addition, it ties in to their home lives, as their parents are all farmers,” she says.
Because many of Langston’s students speak Spanish, each classroom is staffed with two teachers, one English-speaking and one Spanish-speaking. “It’s important for our kids to understand English so they don’t fall behind in the public school system,” Sanders says. “But it’s also important to help them keep their own language and culture.”
Carmen Hernández, Langston’s co-teacher, helps bridge the gap between both languages, and also between their parents’ livelihoods and what’s happening out in the garden. “Because our children’s parents work in the field, we teach them about gardening and try to integrate what they learn at home into school.”
Learning how gardens grow
The kids in the Head Start class follow the growing season in their little garden from seed to harvest. They learn vocabulary words like root, stem, weeds, soil, and get their hands dirty planting, weeding and harvesting. By the end of the year, they all understand that while food might be prepared in the kitchen, it starts in the garden. Griselda, a seasonal migrant worker whose daughter, Roselyn, is a Head Start student, says her daughter gets excited about what they’ve planted at school and what they’ve learned about the growing process.
“For them to be learning about planting food … that’s important, because that’s the way we feed ourselves,” Griselda says. “It’s really educational for them.”
Langston says gardening can help build on important foundational concepts for math, science and cognitive thinking, as well as introducing kids to the importance of nutrition at an early age.
“I think every school should have a garden, and every family should have a garden,” she says. It gives you teachable moments, it gives you something to talk about with your kids, it saves you money in the grocery store and gives you that time of bonding with your children. Gardens are a very important part of life.”
Scott’s Miracle-Gro sponsors Gro More Good garden grants like the one at the East Coast Migrant Head Start project at Head Start programs across the country to teach children, families, and communities how to grow their own fresh produce. www.nhsa.org
This article originally appeared on EatingWell.