Budding Green Thumbs: Gardening at the Y Nursery School

Budding Green Thumbs: Gardening at the Y Nursery School

Have you ever seen preschoolers in a garden? At that age, it is a truly magical time of exploration and investigation where young children see, touch, and taste herbs, tomatoes, and other delicious fruits and vegetables. This is what the 3 – 5 year olds at the Y Nursery School experience each week during their gardening and permaculture specialty classes in our rooftop garden. Our greening and gardening programs are sponsored, in part, by Con Edison in their support for environmental sustainability education for children of all ages.

As youngsters in an urban setting, New York City children often experience a disconnect from their food source. For example, during a recent conversation with a preschooler regarding milk and where it comes from, the answer from the four year old was, “from the grocery store, of course!” Through immersion into a garden setting, children learn to see fruits and vegetables as more than just objects purchased in the grocery store. They experience the joy of watching a planted seed grow and ripen into a fruit or vegetable that they can harvest, cook, and consume with pleasure.

Marsha Guerrero, executive director of Edible Schoolyard, once stated, “One of the things that we have learned is that if students grow the food, they’ll eat it. We find that students are more willing to try foods, to taste, and to experiment once they’ve been in the garden.” This observation has been affirmed over and over in our practical experience at the Y Nursery School. Consider this humorous anecdote related to us from our gardening and permaculture teacher Monica Ibacache. A parent of one of her former students reached out to her to express her confusion regarding her son’s excitement over the “red circles” he ate in school. After deliberating over the meaning of this puzzling statement, Monica and the parent finally realized that this student was referring to the grape tomatoes he had grown in the garden. This parent was surprised not only by her child’s choice of words, but also by the fact that he was now asking for tomatoes to be included in meals at home.

Now that the colder weather is approaching, our preschoolers are still gardening and learning about harvesting, decomposition, and even pickling. They worked together to prepare the garden for winter by covering our rooftop garden with landscape cloth and harvesting our remaining herbs. We bunched the herbs together and are hanging them to dry upside down in our classrooms. During the winter, we will continue to learn about composting, the role of worms in the garden ecosystem, and food preservation through drying and pickling. We will take care of some of our local birds by making bird-feeders and hanging them near the winter garden. As spring approaches, we will compare and germinate a variety of seeds and nurture the young plants until they can be transplanted into our garden. Our children will use all of their senses to smell, taste, and touch our plants, herbs, vegetables, and flowers.

Through the gardening and permaculture classes at the Y Nursery, our 3 – 5 year olds not only learn about healthy eating habits, but also develop the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs that are instrumental to becoming “eco-citizens.” Our youngsters have actively explored such topics as the benefits of the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) and have created their own classroom composting bins. By tending to and taking ownership for the living things in the garden, children learn that living things form a part of a larger environmental ecosystem…an ecosystem that people of all ages can play a role in maintaining and sustaining.

Our deep thanks to Con Edison for their support!

By Susan Herman and Laura Sanchez, Early Childhood Services

About the Y
Established in 1917, the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood (the Y) is Northern Manhattan’s premier Jewish community center — serving an ethnically and socio-economically diverse constituency — improving the quality of life for people of all ages through critical social services and innovative programs in health, wellness, education, and social justice, while promoting diversity and inclusion, and caring for those in need.

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