Spring is right around the corner here in the Grand Valley. Farmers and families are starting to plan out their vegetable and fruit gardens. To me this is truly the start of the New Year as it represents a shift in both the weather and the activity level of the community. We get to see more of our neighbors and friends since there is more sunlight and warmer days. Spring is the perfect time to involve children in the art of growing their own food.
Growing your own food can happen anywhere. From a small planter on the window sill to tilling the soil in your yard. Personally, I enjoy a mixture of pots and raised planters. Hardware stores with garden centers or Greenhouses are great resources to help you get started. I use pots for large root vegetables, potatoes and sweet potatoes, and for herbs that will take over the yard like mint or lemon balm. Trust me on the lemon balm! My son convinced me to put it in my raised planter several years ago and I am still regularly pulling it out because it is trying to overrun my carrots, strawberries, and melons.
At my former child care, spring was full of garden planning. I love how easy it was to incorporate a variety of different math explorations into growing food we would eat for our snacks or lunch. First we would count the number of pots that would be used for vegetables/fruits compared to flowers. Then, the seed packets were spread out on the table and the children voted on which ones they wanted to grow. There were a limited number of pots, so we could not plant all of the seeds. Peas, beans, and carrots were some of the favorites. My family liked large tomatoes but the preschoolers did not until I introduced both cherry and pear varieties. These quickly became an annual favorite. Their small size, fun shape, sweet taste, and quick growing was intriguing to them. They would spend time during the day counting the yellow flowers and green tomatoes talking about how many they would eat.
Midsummer was exciting because the plants would have the first ripe fruit for the children to gather. We would compare the colors to make sure that only the ripe ones were picked for lunch or snack. Sometime those little fingers would quickly pop one or more in their mouth. I would get a quick grin from the guilty person and we would continue the mini harvest while counting the number of tomatoes that made it into the basket.
After cleaning, the group would decide how many tomatoes each person would get to eat. This was a great way to explore the concepts of division and “fair”. Anyone with young children can validate that children will quickly notice if you have more than they do. This also gave us the chance to explore fractions in a fun and engaging way. When there was not an even amount, which happened often, we would cut up the remaining tomatoes so that everyone would have a piece. This gave me the opportunity to talk with the children about fractions, such as ½, ⅓ , and ¼. Cutting a cherry or pear tomato into 1/4ths takes some practice! There is a great trick that you can use with two plates to cut large groups in ½ quickly. Click here to watch! There was a great deal of counting and recounting to make sure everyone had the same amount. Then the feast would begin.