Planting, harvesting, and baking are not typical activities for an early childhood curriculum. But they are at Strelitz Early Childhood Education Center, which is leading the way in providing a well-rounded education for its students.
Three and four-year-old children enrolled in the Strelitz extended day program are offered enrichment activities, including: cooking, science exploration, art, literature, and outdoor gross motor activities.
To learn how these tiny tots are accomplishing such tasks, look no further than the Reba and Sam Sandler Family Campus’ backyard.
Toward the end of February, Strelitz installed a hoop house in their garden so the kids could learn about nature yearround. A hoop house is very similar to a greenhouse with some exceptions. A greenhouse usually uses a heater and ventilation fans, while a hoop house strictly uses solar heat and is cooled by the wind.
Instead of being a solid framed house, a hoop house is made of piping and greenhouse plastic stretching over the crops —ultimately forming a cylindrical shape. Prolonged growing seasons, quicker and improved seed starting, and tropical planting opportunities are just a few of the benefits a hoop house gardening technique provides.
Gardening’s educational component
“One of the values we work toward teaching is Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world,” says Lorna Orleans, director of Strelitz Early Childhood Education Center. “Another Hebrew phrase we use in regard to being ‘good stewards’ of the earth is Shomrei Adamah. This literally means ‘keepers of the earth,’
“One way to teach these concepts and create these sensibilities in our children is to raise their appreciation for the natural world around them.”
Thanks to the yields of this past year’s harvests, the students have learned that when they properly tend to nature, the benefits of their labor are boundless.
“We have had three planting play dates since last fall involving children and parents to keep this beautiful area growing and vibrant. We also have garden boxes, one for each preschool and toddler class. Each class planned, monitored and maintained a garden box throughout the year as an extension of their indoor classrooms,” says Orleans.
Now that there is a hoop house in their gardens, teachers include even more outdoor courses, regardless of weather, throughout the school year.
Fortunately, this year’s plots did not suffer extreme weather constraints, with the winter break consisting mostly of warm and rainy days allowing the Strelitz garden to beautifully blossom.
Orleans describes the fruits of their labor, “Students harvested in January— we had some beautiful ornamental cabbages and also vegetables like beets and chives.”
Educational opportunities don’t end when the harvest is complete. Science lesson plans, created by teacher Diana Smith, are centering on the topic of lettuce, thanks to the developments brought forth by their garden.
Students have been examining the textures, flavors, and colors of the lettuce they grew. These students also learn the value of sharing their crops to properly proceed with meal preparation. After growing and picking their romaine, dill, and cilantro, these preschoolers learned how to make a salad to include in their routine Wednesday cucumber snack. They then divided some remaining produce to take home to their families.
The supplementation of kale chips and chocolate beet muffin recipes allow these hard working pupils yummy taste testing opportunities.
As Strelitz utilizes their fall and winter harvests, they are planning for spring planting, as well as considering the many ways they can use this hoop house in their tiny, but fruitful backyard garden of Eden.
This month, they are headlining a Purim themed harvest and planting parsley in preparation for Passover, as well as marigolds for Passover décor. April will be a study of how bugs and butterflies help gardens grow and in May, the children will press flowers for Yom Ha’Atzmaut cards and learn the value of recycling.
by Gaby Grune