We are a small Reggio-inspired preschool, recently opened in 2010, serving children ages 2 1/2 to 6 years of age. When we were planning the things we felt were important for Little Owl to focus on, the nature of food was right up at the top of our list. To give our children a “language of food” meant to share a way for children to see how food comes to our table. To show how wonderfully delicious healthy, fresh food can be and to enable children to make good nutritional choices in their eating habits was an essential goal. Having an abundance of fruit trees, a seasonal organic garden, composting and community meals was all part of that plan. Children observing the process of a tiny seed or starter plant becoming a fruit, vegetable or herb allowed a full use of their senses. They saw, smelled, touched and tasted new and familiar foods. Like other learning in a constructivist setting, the layers of knowledge and complexity grew. The simple knowledge of knowing when it was the right time to harvest oranges, avocados, carrots or tomatoes, came from picking some that were too sour, hard or small.
This summer we observed children learning when to wait and when to harvest. The children came to know when our heritage tomatoes were the proper shade of yellow, orange or red to pick and eat right off the vine. They learned to add layers of complexity by adding flavors, herbs, oils, or other foods to create new tastes and flavors. This came from learning experiences in the garden with teachers and in the kitchen helping to prep food for lunches or snacks. The addition of our chickens, and the eggs they will soon be producing, adds another layer of learning. Our children are enthusiastic and becoming capable in all areas of gardening and in the care of our chickens. We see a developing community of willing gardeners and urban farmers learning the joy of growing their own food. We often hear the children speaking the “language” of food. Their skill knowing the names of vegetables and fruits at the local farmers’ market is appreciated by their parents, as well as their willingness to be a bit more adventurous in their eating. These are the skills and lessons we hope our children will carry with them long after they leave the gardens of Little Owl.