Getting Little Ones Interested in Vegetables

An organization in Quebec City offers gardening and sensory workshops to get young children exploring vegetables.

Craque-Bitume, located in the borough of Limoilou, develops activities for the community focused on three areas: eco-citizenship, urban composting and urban gardening. A committed local partner, the organization carried out the project, On sème avec les tout-petits [Let’s sow with little ones], to address early childhood needs. Craque-Bitume was motivated by the proven fact that when children are introduced to and explore a wide variety of vegetables at a young age, they’re more likely to be interested in them and enjoy eating them. As well as promoting healthy eating, planting vegetable gardens in urban daycares is also a way to bring young children closer to nature.

Some 210 children aged two to five took part in 33 workshops, and 12 educators were trained so they can share what they learned in their daycares.

Children aged two to five discover gardening and watch vegetables grow

From January to November 2017, children at six daycares in Limoilou were involved in the whole process of growing vegetables and learned about the variety that exists. At fun workshops, they had the pleasure of meeting the wonderful Madame Jardine, a horticulturist hired by Craque-Bitume to provide invaluable gardening tips.

First, the children learned about and tasted sprouts, guided by educators trained by Madame Jardine. Then, each daycare was transformed by installing homemade geotextile planters in the yard and on balconies. The children helped sow the seeds in spring and tended the vegetables until fall. “We gave the children tools suitable for little hands to play in the soil and learn the basics of gardening,” says Madame Jardine.

The children spent a lot of time exploring vegetables and herbs with their senses. They loved watching the plants grow in the play areas every day, as well as touching, smelling, tasting and picking them. What’s more, the daycare chefs prepared snacks with the homegrown vegetables and cooked the lunches with them, too.

Exploring a range of vegetables with the five senses

Madame Jardine also held a sensory workshop for children aged three to five in four daycares in the fall.

When we visited CPE Fanfou, 10 four-year-olds were having great fun exploring all sorts of vegetables with their senses. They sorted peppers, tomatoes, carrots, green beans and cucumbers by colour. They guessed mystery vegetables by feeling their shape and texture. They became familiar with the smell of different vegetables, and were very focused when listening for the sound of a carrot being crunched—with their ears covered, then without.

At the end of the workshop, Madame Jardine presented the children with a wonderful selection of vegetables for their snack. They were amazed by the sticks of pink-and-white striped beets, yellow beets, orange marigolds and red peppers. Their little fingers were eager to touch the kohlrabi and green-and-pink watermelon radishes. They were also proud to recognize parsley and the smell of mint. And of course, they couldn’t wait to taste them!

When little ones explore vegetables with the senses like this, they discover lesser-known root vegetables, which they may then ask their parents for.

Educators committed to continuing the initiative

Throughout the On sème avec les tout-petits project, Craque-Bitume focused on training daycare educators to continue the initiative independently. As well as learning from Madame Jardine at each stage of the project, they were given educational materials so they could teach the children between workshops. The final evaluation shows that they now feel well equipped to continue the activities on food and vegetable gardens thanks to the horticulturist’s training.

It looks as if empowering educators and raising awareness about vegetables through gardening and the five senses will become part and parcel of young children’s food education.

The Louis Bonduelle Foundation supported this project through its summer 2016 call for proposals.