Gardening teaches preschoolers about food
Thanks to a program organized by Mississippi State University, preschool children learn about where food comes from.
The growing season may have come to a close, but the knowledge gained by a new crop of very young hands-on enthusiasts could last a lifetime. A Mississippi State University program is educating young children about healthy living, aiming to stop obesity before it starts.Skip to next paragraph
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The Garden-Based Learning Program for Preschoolers first began in January at Emerson Family School in Starkville, Miss. It is a pilot project developed by Chiquita Briley, Mike Hall, Diane Tidwell and Brian Trader in MSU's departments of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion and Plant and Soil Sciences to teach preschoolers ages 3 to 5 about nutrition, health, gardening, and physical activity.
The goal is to reduce the incidence of childhood obesity by introducing children, parents and educators to healthy food options and physical activity.
"When you ask a young child where food comes from, they usually answer, 'the store,' " says Brian Trader, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences. "The gardening component of the program helps teach kids about where their food really comes from."
Early in the year, children were given their own packets of seeds to plant in one of the three gardens at Emerson. They helped maintain the gardens and learned about the flowers, herbs and vegetables as they watched the plants grow.
"We introduced the preschoolers to vegetables to help them learn about eating fresh, nutritious foods, and the herbs are used to introduce them to different flavors used in cooking," Mr. Trader says.
"In the flower garden, we grew sunflowers, butterfly bushes and other plants that attract interesting insects and hummingbirds. The experience in that garden helps them interact with nature and learn more about the environment," he says.
Every two weeks, the children enjoyed a tasting session. They have been introduced to fruits and vegetables such as beets, oranges, melons, cucumbers, summer squash, potatoes, romaine lettuce and Swiss chard.
Chiquita Briley, assistant professor of food science, nutrition and health promotion, and senior-level undergraduate students use age-appropriate techniques to help the children understand the importance of healthy eating.
"The lessons are very visual. The children remember more when you introduce the color, shape and size of the fruit or vegetable," Ms. Briley says. "The lessons they learned previously are reinforced during the next session. They seem to remember a lot of what they've learned every time we review previous material, and they can easily grasp new concepts."