July 9, 2012
Childhood obesity and its health-related consequences are increasing among Wisconsin’s youth. Nutrition research supports the role of increased fruit and vegetable consumption for the prevention of cancer, heart disease, and obesity. Recent research has also documented that involving children in gardening is a promising strategy for increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, as it increases their nutrition knowledge in an active learning environment. Thus, youth gardens have been emerging as an important tool for nutrition and wellness in public health interventions.
To encourage healthy eating and increased physical activity, the Department of Health Services’ Nutrition, Physical Activity & Obesity Program developed programming to support teachers and childcare providers in starting and maintaining youth and school gardens.
With implementation and planning by the Fort HealthCare Green Team, the Fort HealthCare Health & Wellness department, and Sustainability Coordinator, Margaret Martin, the Fort HealthCare Kids Konnection daycare and preschool began their gardening adventure this spring. Many Kids Konnection classrooms and the 4K class are participating, with children as young as two years old helping to water plants and harvest vegetables.
Martin states, “School gardens are a fun way to influence the eating habits of young children while their preferences and habits are forming.” Kids Konnection teachers, students and children, and parent volunteers manage a 4-foot x 8-foot raised bed, three container gardens and a small flower bed. The gardens are located near the school’s playground, and each class makes almost-daily visits to tend to their gardens. The classes are currently growing broccoli, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, spinach, lettuce and peas.
The 4K class follows the Fort Atkinson School District’s curriculum for education, which includes seasonal nature and science applications in the lesson plans. School gardens are a great way to satisfy this educational requirement by presenting the children with a hands-on learning experience and the ultimate reward of eating the fresh vegetables they’ve grown themselves.
Kelly Koepke, Kids Konnection 4K and daycare teacher states, “The garden, at first, was established to show how plants grow and change. We used it primarily for flowers, sometimes giant sunflowers, and the children saw how to care for a garden by pulling weeds and watering. We would use the garden as a spring/summer-long unit along with other areas of interest. The garden this year was turned into much more! We planted the seeds, watched them sprout, and saw the changes that take place, but with vegetables that we could consume ourselves. We did a unit on seeds and plants inside the classroom during the spring and during the summer and fall we will hopefully be doing a unit on harvesting as well. Each day we see the changes and are amazed by how much growth happens each day.”