By Jill Bell, Gardening Teacher
In Waldorf education it is widely recognized that growing food and connecting with the earth are deeply important to the healthy development of a child. When we teach children to garden, we give them the opportunity to perceive and reconnect to the world of nature, to recognize the rhythms of the seasons, and to experience their role in caring for the earth. Working in a garden often leads to discussion around the importance of how we nourish our bodies and how we treat the world around us (the people, bugs, plants, air, water, and soil). This awakening to nature along with the physical work that gardening brings strengthens the children’s life forces and develops a social dynamic required for everyone to be able to work together in a shared garden plot. The children learn to find their place in a community project that requires them to develop and use skills such as cooperation, listening, empathy, sharing and navigating conflict all while creating something beautiful from nature.
In addition to connecting the children to the natural world and their place in it, the garden gives children a much needed education in how to make healthy food choices. Our modern fast-paced society has made it increasingly difficult and confusing for children to eat healthy foods. In the garden the children learn to use their natural senses as tools to identify what are healthy, natural food sources. We use our eyes to identify what are the colors that naturally occurring in the foods we are growing? We use our sense of taste to discover the flavors of fresh greens such as kale or spinach. We use our sense of smell to explore ideas such as how does the smell of lemon balm or mint make me feel? In the garden children are empowered to use their senses to make healthy food choices and nourish their bodies.