Government & Local Projects Try To Nurture Preschoolers’ Love Of Nature

When we talk about healthy habits, there’s a lot of emphasis placed on embracing them from an early age. To that end, both the federal government and national corporations are trying to encourage spending time outdoors and healthy eating in young children with some sizable grant assistance.

On June 1, the USDA granted $988,645 to a project conducted by North Carolina State University. “Childcare Outdoors as Active Food System: Effectiveness of POD [Preventing Obesity by Design] Gardening Component” will ideally operate at 15 different childcare centers throughout the state, teaching children the value of growing — and eating — their own food.

In the U.S. nearly 75% of young children participate in preschool programs. Through this project, approximately 300 four- and five-year-olds will learn how to garden and will experience gardening-related activities in the classroom, both of which, researchers assert, will promote healthy eating habits from a young age.

Outlined in the grant proposal, children will examine seeds and watch them sprout, prepare the beds and plant seeds, water and weed, observe growth and insect activity, and harvest, prepare, and eat the literal fruits of their labor. The hope is that this hands-on fruit and vegetable gardening will increase consumption of fresh produce and increase overall knowledge, interest, and health in the preschoolers who participate. They also are optimistic that the concept could become an integrated part of these programs for the long haul.

But the USDA isn’t the only organization granting money to promote gardening in young kids. A Home Depot store in Shrewsbury, MA recently approved a $30,000 grant to construct gardens at every public school in the town. For those few schools that have existing gardens, these areas will be expanded.

The goal here, too, is to work these gardens into the curriculum while addressing the issues of healthy eating and growing food for themselves. Bryan Moss, the founder of Sustainable Shrewsbury and father of Shrewsbury school students told Community Advocate:

“A Farm to School Program is important because it empowers a new generation of children to make healthy eating choices, learn to grow food, and connect at local farms by using an approach which integrates the classroom, cafeteria and the community. School gardens provide the real-life context for learning across all disciplines — math, science, art, language arts, foreign languages and more. By engaging students in hands-on opportunities that establish meaningful connections to the curriculum, the gardens will help children connect the dots by showing them where their food comes from and how their food choices impact their bodies, the environment and their communities at large.”

Some schools have already been responsible for maintaining their own gardens, but this grant takes their involvement to a whole new level. Students and teachers are working together to create garden maps, choose their crops, research ecosystems, and explore sustainable features. Shrewsbury schools will serve the produce grown in their cafeterias, too.

By taking the traditional seed sprout experiments conducted in classrooms (usually with wet paper towels and plastic bags) outside in the open air, these students may gain a much deeper appreciation for farming and for healthy eating.

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