Around a year ago a was approached by a lady from OASES North East. They asked us if we would be interested in starting a gardening project with them. It would result in us developing a vegetable patch over the year with the support of a development worker – Helen. I must admit I was a little bit reluctant. Gardening with 2,3 and 4 year olds – really! My expectations were less than high I’ll admit that now (and did in our initial meeting) How wrong could I be!
Helen spent the weeks before she arrived providing us support in what we needed to buy – the bare minimum as funds were very tight but she did a brilliant job of finding us some bargains. So armed with a few resources and even less knowledge off we went. The first session with the children basically consisted of digging! We dug out all of the old weeds and turned over the soil in our raised beds in the outdoor area. The kids absolutely loved it! They got stuck right in. I was a little nervous when she started handing them shovels and rakes but they were amazing. They listened carefully as she explained what they had to do and how to stay safe with the tools. They spent the whole afternoon outside digging and raking and generally getting mucky and having great fun. We found worms, talked about how the soil felt and what we were going to plant and hopefully grow.
Over the next few months Helen returned at various points and helped us with key parts of the process from planting the seeds and preparing the ground further to developing an area for the children to dig and grow more wild plants. Every time she came there was a real clamour for those who would get to go outside and help. When things needed to be done and she couldn’t come to help we enlisted out handy helper Nana Sas who is pretty green fingered to come and help. Helen provided us with regular lists of what needed doing and when and we even had to send some plants home with the staff to look after over the holidays.
We planed a whole range of things from potatoes to spring onions, raspberries, peas, tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, beans and strawberries. Still at this point I was very doubtful we would grown anything at all successfully but the children were having a great time getting involved and that was reward enough. They were heading straight up the garden to look at the seeds and monitor their progress. Asking for the watering cans so they could water the plants. We talked about what we needed to do to help the plants and vegetables grow and how we could help to protect them. The children learned about the need for good soil, insects to live in the soil, sunlight and water. They also learned that we needed to keep getting rid of the weeds in the area to keep the plants healthy. They loved pulling out any of the weeds that they saw. One of children would bring his bowl for us to fill with weeds and then take it back down to the playhouse where he role played making soup which he would then share out with his friends and staff. Role play on a level we didn’t normally see from him but has certainly continued since. We were really starting to see actions and learning that we had never observed before. The children would spent time sitting on the planters digging and looking at the plants, checking them and talking to each other about what they could see. At this point I felt we had got so much from the project it had certainly been a worthwhile experience but there was more to come!
As the weeks passed a small miracle happened and things began to grow!
We had tomatoes coming out of our ears (not literally) and lots of other fruits and vegetables. The children began to race each other up the hill to the vegetable patch to be the first one there to pick the vegetables. We spoke to them about which ones they could and couldn’t eat and before long they were eating the raspberries and peas straight from the plants! Some of these children had been less than enthusiastic about many fruit and vegetables until this point.
They helped Nana Sas to take out the rhubarb, being very careful of course as it can be poisonous. We weren’t keen on the rhubarb so Nana Sas took it home and made a crumble, she said it was delicious! We pulled out the carrots and parsnips and used them to make vegetable soup and stir fry. We had potatoes peeled and cooked for snack. We used the salad leaves to practice our cutting skills and we had a jolly good investigate of all of the things that we had grown. The questions coming from the children were great. Their faces lit up when they could pick and eat the various produce.
One of our little girls had been massively involved from the start and was always the first one there to do digging and planting. She expressed a real interest in the whole project despite being just 2 when it started. We allowed her to follow the whole project through from digging the weeds, planting the seeds, puling up the vegetables, washing them and cutting them and making them into soup. She absolutely loved it. Her confidence and speech grew with the project.
So I’ll be the first to admit I was very sceptical when developing a vegetable patch was suggested to me but you know what? I am absolutely delighted to have been proved wrong. We have all loved the project so much (both children and staff) That we applied for a grant from the Three Towns Partnership AAP and received funding to allow us to continue with our vegetable patch this coming year. We have bought new tools and seeds and we are hoping to enter the town show with some of our produce. The children got so much out of the whole experience and it engaged perhaps the children we least expected. It has developed their investigatory nature, they have learned how to look after plants, they’ve learned about fruit and vegetables that they have never seen before. We linked the area to literacy, maths and understanding of the world through various stories such as Jaspers Beanstalk, 10 seeds and Jack and the beanstalk. Their language has been developed with a whole new batch of vocabulary and they have worked together as a team. So much more than just growing some tomatoes.We’ve already started work on our digging area to prepare it for this years planting.
The benefits of the project have been abundantly clear but what also came alongside this was the additional learning that went on in the outdoor area whilst we were working on our vegetable patch. The children went out to see the plants and gradually became engaged in other areas of learning out there. We had groups of boys mark making and role playing which they do less frequently inside. We had children developing their motor skills using watering cans and moving around the garden area. We had previously used a smaller more accessible outdoor space but with the introduction of the vegetable patch we have now changed and made this outdoor area our main space. We have been awarded funding to renovate our building so we can have direct access to the area and we hope to do fundraising to enable us to develop the whole outdoor area even further. The learning opportunities are so great for this amazing space, and all this from being asked if we wanted to grow some tomatoes!!