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Garden of eatin'

Teach your preschooler where her food comes from and give her a taste for science.

By Sarah Henry

Food is a fantastic teaching tool. Children can learn about math, chemistry, nutrition, biology, culture, history — you name it — all while playing with something that's both tactile and tasty.

And since eating is an everyday activity, food-related exercises help kids explore their environment through a medium that's fun and familiar. Adults can pass on their values about food, stress the importance of eating wholesomely, and encourage kids to learn to cook dishes they love as well as try something new as part of an edible education. The activity that follows can be adapted for any age group. Enjoy!

The project: Plant an edible garden

Kids dig eating food they’ve farmed themselves, and growing their own veggies, fruits, or herbs gives young ones a window into the natural world. Planting an edible garden helps your preschooler learn about the need for sun, water, and care — as well as the challenges (and benefits) of bugs. A nutritious bonus: Your child is more likely to try an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable she’s grown.

To prepare the educational soil, read children's classics like The Little Red Hen or The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss, to reinforce the value of growing your own food.

What you’ll need

  • A patch of soil or containers and soil mix to grow produce in
  • Seeds or starter plants

Make it happen

  • Choose a sunny spot to plant your edible garden.
  • Talk with your child about what fruits, vegetables, or herbs she'd like to grow.
  • Take a trip to a nursery. Choose produce that grows quickly and without too much maintenance. Good choices include carrots, lettuce, and radishes, as well as tomatoes and strawberries. Basil, parsley, chives, and mint also thrive in most environments.
  • Little hands can help prepare the soil for planting, and most preschoolers enjoy being outside, getting dirty, and exploring nature. Young children can also water, compost, help control pests, and, of course, taste the fruits of their labor.
  • Consider growing both seeds — your child can regularly check to see if anything is sprouting — and seedlings to keep her interested. Stage a contest to see whose pepper plant grows the tallest or whose cornstalk yields the biggest ear as a way to encourage responsibility for watering, weeding, and tending the plants.
  • Harvest the excess bounty and suggest that you give away some to neighbors or friends, which helps foster community and teaches your child about the benefits of sharing. Or she may like to proudly display her produce at a farm stand in front of the house.

Sarah Henry writes about food matters at Lettuce Eat Kale.

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