DUG’s new ECE Growing Gardeners Initiative brings younger children into the garden.
.The National Gardening Association reports huge increases in the number of people engaging in gardening, documenting over 18 million new gardeners in the US in 2021. Gardens encourage us to ‘slow down’ and appreciate the interconnected community of soil, plants, and critters while improving our mental health and wellbeing. For children, the garden provides opportunities for cultivating the wonder and joy of experiential learning while connecting to our lifegiving earth and soil.
Denver Urban Gardens’ (DUG) Growing Gardeners Initiative, a Fiscal Year 2021 Farm to School Turnkey Grantee, creates a system of resources for bringing younger children into the garden. Hands-on DUG lessons investigating composting worms under magnifying glasses, engaging in cooking and trying new foods in garden clubs, and planting seeds and seedlings for the season provide students with memorable time in the soil.
Studies show that exposure to gardens at a younger age increases the chance that children will continue to value healthy eating and gardening into adulthood. Working with a cohort of twelve Denver Public Schools early childhood educators, DUG provided year-long training to increase teachers’ comfort level in taking students outside and integrating gardens into their curricula.
Children need unstructured physical activity. As they work to turn the soil and care fortheir baby plants, gardens serve as both guardian and nurturer–an outdoor classroom with quiet, secret places that allow kids to discover that as they care for a plant, they are also protected. They learn the importance of self, that their efforts are important, and that working together and respecting diversity is part of the process of growth.
Moving forward, DUG will support a new cohort of teachers with year-long programming. Local grant funds will further deepen our efforts by incorporating sensory garden plots at selected DUG school-based community gardens.