How can a kitchen garden be included in an early learning setting?
The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation aim is to provide the inspiration, information, professional development and support for educators in early childhood, primary and secondary schools to deliver successful kitchen garden programs. In early childhood settings we introduce pleasurable food education where the children discover the magic of growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing fresh, seasonal, delicious food.
What are the benefits of kitchen gardens for children and for centres as a whole?
The benefits of connecting children with kitchen garden experiences in the yearly years are never ending! Children develop fine and gross motor skills when using garden and kitchen equipment. Health and wellbeing is promoted by being physically outside and learning through sensory experiences, and children are encouraged to play in natural environments and share stories around the table. The program also encourages imagination and creativity and allows the child to play in and embrace their environments.
The services and community also benefit greatly from the Kitchen Garden Program: it provide a rich and meaningful opportunity for services to connect with families and for the wider community to share experiences, cultures and knowledge.
How does this align with the early learning Early Years Learning Framework?
The program has been designed to support educators to develop their everyday practice, as well as relevant quality areas of the National Quality Standard and outcomes of the Early Years Learning Framework. We have developed a series of workbooks and 10 kitchen garden program fundamentals to outline what it takes to deliver a best-practice kitchen garden program in early childhood and provide support every step of the way.
How do kitchen gardens help to educate children about healthy eating?
The process of educating the children about healthy food habits happens through osmosis. The children are encouraged to taste, smell and touch from the garden to the table. They see the food grow and are interested and curious about the taste. Once they start this process it finds its way into the children’s homes. They ask their families to try a parsley pesto or a raw zucchini salad and this is where the real education begins.
What are the requirements for a kitchen garden?
We say, 'start small and dream big!'. There are no requirements for your kitchen garden program other than having the desire and support of a team to run one. Kitchens and gardens come in all shapes and sizes. From small pots filled with lettuce, to large market-sized gardens. That said, you do need to set up your garden, no matter the size, in the right shape. Sun, soil and water requirements need to be addressed.
Some services have a kitchen and a cook, while others have a kitchen trolley that can be rolled through the various rooms to facilitate the kitchen experiences. There is no right or wrong way to deliver your kitchen garden program, as long as you are committed and excited (even if you are a bit nervous) about running the program and the children are engaged with the experiences.
What plants would you recommend for a kitchen garden in an early learning environment and why?
We recommend giving anything a go that piques the children’s interest! Try unusual varieties of fruits and vegetables, such as purple carrot or orange cauliflower. Successful and fun crops in the garden include: radish, lettuce, silverbeet, spinach, pumpkin, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and herbs.
In what ways can young children be involved in the kitchen garden and how does this benefit them?
Children of all ages can be involved in the kitchen garden. The aim is to nurture the joy and magic of growing and preparing seasonal food. Children in the toddler room can water, sow seeds, mulch and harvest; in the kitchen they can stir, roll, and of course, taste! These experiences will help form positive relationships with food and nature for life.
Can you briefly outline what the staff commitment is for a kitchen garden, and what tasks are involved?
It is important for the success of the program that the whole service is committed to the program. How that looks from centre to centre differs, but what we recommend is that there is a team of two that coordinates the program. They could be any staff member or, in some cases, parents or volunteers invested in running the program. The tasks involved for this role are: overseeing the running of the program, being the central contact, meeting regularly, overseeing garden maintenance, helping run the garden and kitchen experiences, and working in collaboration with the other educators to ensure the program is embedded in the practice of the service. It is this team that can help provide the framework for a sustainable program – a kitchen garden that continues through the years.
Why is the cooking and dining part of the program important?
Preparing food and sharing together are vital to the program. We want children to experience the connection with their food from the garden to the shared table. Sitting around a table and sharing food is such an important part of building community and relationships. It gives the children an opportunity to share their experiences and reflect on what they have achieved. It is a time to talk, laugh, taste and enjoy the rewards of working together.
Anything else to add?
As the Early Childhood Project Officer, and someone who has worked in early childhood for over 20 years, I have really been enjoying connecting with kitchen garden services and educators Australia-wide. We have developed monthly catch up opportunities for educators, staff and kitchen garden team members to chat with me directly via zoom to discuss all things kitchen garden. This is a beautiful way for me to support the programs across our wonderful country and for everyone to share their own experiences, experiments and successes!
Natasha Grogan is Early Childhood Program Officer at the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation.
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