Children love gardening, and learning about soil is a great way to get them involved.

Learning about soil involves digging and getting their hands dirty.

Working with soil helps connect children to Papatūānuku

As teachers we can support them in their interest if we know about soil too. We all know that plants need soil to grow, but is our soil healthy and will it support our plants to grow strong?

Soil is not just dirt; it is a lively ecosystem of micro-organisms that decompse organic material and turn it into humus-rich goodness that our plants need to grow healthy and strong. The micro-organisms need the right temperature, moisture levels, acidity and air in the soil so they can go to work. In return our soil becomes healthy and is able to breathe, recycle waste, provide support and nourishment for plants, shelter seeds, store nutrients and cleanse water. 

Often when we hear the word sustainability we think ‘caring for the environment’, reduce, reuse, recycle, gardening etc. However, education for sustainability is more than just looking after the environment. It includes three pillars as set out by the United Nations in 1992 – the Social pillar (includes social and cultural apsects), the Environmental pillar and the Economic pillar (includes political ideologies). These three pillars combine together to become sustainability. Education for sustainability is teaching how these three pillars interact and combine to “to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, chap 2, para.1).

Gardening provides a model for keeping the pillars of sustainability balanced.

 

 Health and Safety, those three small words that can create such anxiety.

And when it comes to gardening with children in an early childhood setting, those three small words can be an even greater concern, but they don’t need to be. The health and safety issues are outweighed by the benefits children gain from gardening. However, they do need to be discussed and addressed.

Some of the questions I have been asked since I began Growing Kiwi Gardeners and started gardening programmes in early childhood centres are:

Should they wear gloves?

What if they eat a plant before it is ripe?

What about legionnaire’s disease?

Should we have masks?

These are all valid questions that need to be answered, especially for ECE teachers who are responsible for the care and education of the young children who attend their settings.

So what risks should we be aware of and how can we mitigate them?

Have you looked at the food waste that is left over on your kai table after each meal time and thought about where it goes?

According to 'Love Food, Hate Waste' we throw away 122,547 tonnes of food a year in New Zealand. That is equivalent to 213 jumbo jets of food that has to go somewhere to rot, instead of being eaten.

However, not all of that wasted food has to go to landfill. You can easily reduce or eliminate it by finding some way to compost it. That could be by putting it in local council greenwaste bins (if you are in an area that provides these), or even better set up a composing system with the tamariki in your centre.

There are three main composting systems that you can choose:

There is a growing movement to get children outdoors and into the natural world. The natural world can give children instant responses to their curiosity through all of their senses as they touch, taste, smell, see and hear what is going on around them. Such connections tend to foster an ethic of care for the natural environment and the life systems within it.

One way to get children involved in the natural world is through gardening. The garden is place for exploration and discovery. Children’s natural curiosity is fostered when they see a seed turn into a plant, or encounter different types of plants that may surprise, such as purple carrots – so different to the standard orange carrots you buy at the supermarket. They also discover a whole world of bugs and insects that inhabit different parts of the garden.

The garden can be a place of fun and enjoyment where children share experiences, develop social skills, and foster friendships, or it can be a place of peace where they can sit and take time out from the busyness of their world.

One of the things I am often asked by teachers is, “How do we stop tamariki from pulling out plants from the garden?”

This is something I have thought a lot about over the last few months. We teach tamariki to respect each other, ie not to hit and to use their words, so how do we teach them to respect the garden?

We therefore need to teach tamariki that plants are living things and explain that when they pull plants out of the garden then they are hurting them. The plants will not be able to grow big and strong and produce flowers or food for us. The same goes for pulling leaves off trees or shrubs. This can be likened to pulling a friend’s hair. It hurts the plants. If they want to use leaves in their play then teach them to pick up leaves that have already fallen to the ground. By likening the care of plants to the care of themselves and each other, tamariki will learn to respect the garden and the plants within their environment.