New Zealand early childcare centre Bear Park provides a green aspect to their learning experience. MiNDFOOD talks to teachers at Bear Park’s Albany centre about the company’s eco-friendly initiative.
Do you involve children in the gardening and if so what are their favourite things to grow?
Yes, our gardening is led by the children who act as guardians for our plants. The children often use their initiative to water the plants with recycled water from meal times. The children absolutely love growing strawberries – it’s exciting for them to see something so yummy and recognizable growing from the ground, starting small and green and turning to red. They also love chives – we grow many herbs such as parsley, thyme, coriander and fennel, but they love the flavour of chives more than anything else. Currently, we’re growing lavender which is a first, and the children love the purple colour and the bees that are attracted to them. They also really like pole beans, which they find to be quite funny-shaped and interesting to dissect.
Can you give us an example of something the children like to cook and eat?
Parsley is sought after by our cook regularly, so the children take turns trimming leaves to deliver to the kitchen. They like to boast to the teachers during lunch if they delivered the parsley that day. We’ve been exploring a lot with lavender; this week the children harvested lavender for blueberry lavender muffins – they were a hit! And a few weeks ago they made their own hand soaps incorporating lavender leaves and flowers, which was another fun way to use the plant.
What sorts of comments do you get from the children about the food that they have helped grow?
Most of the children’s comments on the garden revolve around the wellbeing of the plants. While there is the occasional “I helped plant this!” we more often hear “the plants need water to grow,” “this plant is sad because someone pulled it out – we need to fix it!,” and “this big plant is the mummy plant and this small one is the baby.” So there is a lot of connection and empathy from the children for the plants. They love working the soil and planting seeds and sprouts, but even more so they love being stewards for the health of the plants. Their view of the garden is much more big picture and less about their role in the planting.
Do you think this shows that they are more aware?
The garden definitely makes the children more aware of processes in nature. They know what seeds are, what plants need to grow, and how other living things are connected to the garden (worms, bees, and butterflies are always around for the children to see, enjoying the soil and flowers). They draw comparisons between themselves and the garden, citing what the garden needs “to be happy” – water and sunlight, just like them. They also make connections between our garden and the gardens they might have at home, saying “We grow this at my home too.”
Do you think they enjoy the food more?
Being about to pull a carrot from the soil, clean off the dirt and see another recognizable favourite is always a delight for the children, so this may be something they are thinking about when they buy carrots at the supermarket. There’s definitely more awareness around the actual gardening process. They enjoy tasting the food we grow, and will spend a lot of time beside the garden, eating leaves, feeling the soil, and examining the plants; this seems to be what they enjoy more than anything else.
Visit bearpark.co.nz for more information.