Teachers and children in the Children’s Learning Center at the University of Southern Indiana have developed and maintained an organic vegetable garden outside of their building on campus.
The center's teachers planted a garden many years ago but lacked funding to restart one. In spring 2012, USI Children’s Learning Center Manager Amanda Wheaton-Collins researched and ultimately received a Subaru Healthy Sprouts Award that provided them with seeds, literature, and a $500 gift certificate to Gardening with Kids to purchase supplies. With guidance and advice from parents, USI employees who are also Master Gardners, and community volunteers, plans were made to establish an organic vegetable garden that the children could help to plant and maintain as well as watch grow on a daily basis.
Dr. Jill Raisor, assistant professor of teacher education, learned about the project and stepped in by choosing to integrate the center's garden into her faculty research project, which provided additional funding from the Pott College of Science, Engineering, and Education. The additional money allowed for preparation of the ground, general maintenance, and garden supplies such as child-size shovels, rakes, gloves, soil, fencing, seeds, and marigolds to assist with pest control.
The center has been a part of the Pott College of Science, Engineering and Education since July 1 and has transitioned to a lab school model. As a part of this transition, USI’s early childhood majors are now utilizing the center in more consistent and intentional manners under the leadership of Raisor.
“Early childhood majors are now seeing, firsthand, how to connect course content to actual experiences in the classroom,” said Raisor.
The garden is comprised of cherry tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn, cucumbers, green beans, basil, rosemary, sunflowers, onions, squash, eggplant, watermelon, cantaloupe , and carrots. The children were delighted to find that gourds have grown in a “surprise” garden near the compost bin.
Through the garden project, the children have enjoyed the process of working toward an end result. The teachers and children have used the garden as a method of project based learning while focusing on all domains of development, such as cognitive skills, in measuring and using small hand rakes to plant seeds, labeling each section of the garden, turning seed identification into a matching game, and discussing the advantage of having worms in the garden. Social-emotional exercises include cooperatively dragging and spreading dirt, pulling and counting carrots and dividing them so all the children could have a taste, making a squash casserole, canning and making pickles for hamburger days, and making interesting snacks such as spaghetti squash to share with everyone. Examples of physical development are digging holes for seeds and covering with dirt, pulling weeds and dead marigolds, and pulling ripened vegetables such as cherry tomatoes – a favorite among the children!
“The garden has been a great learning experience for both the children and adults,” said Wheaton-Collins. “They are excited to come to school and work in the garden. The children are trying new vegetables and learning about how things grow, where food comes from, and how to cooperate and share with others. They are gaining hands-on learning experiences in science, math, literacy, social studies, and practicing using both fine and gross motor skills. The children are also learning about both success and failure as many of their seeds grew, but some of them did not.”
The center's teachers plan to continue to plant gardens every year going forward and are gearing up to start their fall garden of lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and peas in the next couple of weeks.
Photo Credit: USI Photography Services
Children are eager to see vegetables grow in their garden planted near the Children's Learning Center.