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I watched a neighbor place a plate of veggies in front of a group of 3rd and 4th graders and then, to my amazement, they attacked it as though it was ice cream. My neighbor must have noticed because she began to launch into an explanation of how she got these sugar and preservative loving kids to switch to healthy foods. The secret was the garden and the farmer’s market.
The Farmer’s market was the first step. She took the kids to the local market and had the folks who sell the fresh fruits and veggies off the back of trucks and in rustic stands give the kids samples. These farmers are so passionate about the crops they grow that it is infectious. The kids must have caught it.
The second step was to take the kids to the local garden shop and allow each kid to select one packet of vegetable seeds. She had prepared garden plots for each of her 4 kids and the next day they planted the seeds in the plots. I do remember watching the kids check on the seeds every day last summer. I also remember getting a large bag of zucchini from one of the young gardeners. Apparently he had planted all his seeds.
This shark feed on a plate of veggies that I witnessed took place this year and the kids had tasted and decided which veggies they liked. They planted those veggies this year but this plate came from the Farmer’s market. This got me thinking about duplicating this idea at school.
You could plant a garden and there are always parents and adult school volunteers who will help with this sort of project. It is good to line up volunteers early in the spring as you will need them to help over the summer. But, you do not have to plant a garden. You can bring the garden to you.
We have organic food stores in most cities and most chain grocery stores have produce managers who are as passionate about good produce as those amazing folks at the farmer’s market. You simply have to locate some of these folks and invite them to come and talk about good food. Most will bring samples and get some of your kids hooked on veggies.
The science content that goes along with this idea is nutrition. One of my favorite sites is from the USDA.
There are lots of sites that post the nutritional values of fruits and vegetables. Having kids analyze that data and come up with lists of healthy snacks or healthy meals can reinforce analysis skills and reinforce good nutrition.
The nutritional needs of a healthy body are also fodder for investigation.
Most kids will know someone with a food allergy. These are not only important but are a great safety lesson.
There is a strong connection between the major systems of the body and nutrition. When you are deficient in one needed nutrient how will that impact the body systems? That study will help kids learn the different body systems and again good nutrition.
I do not suggest going deeply into healthy weight in this unit or study. This topic is best handled with a whole school effort. Singling out kids based on weight can be touchy. Rather, I suggest focusing on simple activities that keep the kids moving and healthy nutrition. You may not be able to cut down the number of happy meals the parents serve their child but knowledge is power and just knowing the health facts of good nutrition and how it affects the body helps increase the probability of better food decisions.
With the diversity of our classes expanding there are new veggies coming from other cultures to our grocery stores. This provides a great chance for kids to expand their knowledge of different vegetables. Most seed companies will list some sort of odd veggies on their sites.
Even with one vegetable the possible varieties are broad. The simple onion comes in so many different varieties that most kids have never seen or tasted.
This variety idea could lead to some lessons on nutrition and genetic variation. One of my students wanted to investigate why a green onion and a red onion were both onions. What makes an onion an onion is a classic study in classification. Why do onions make you cry? Can onions be used as tear gas?
The simple onion can be an entire study in itself. If you are looking for an easy way to get nutrition and a bit of exceptional life science into your year the onion would be cheap, easy to find and rich with scientific mysteries.
So, this summer, grab a plate of vegetables and give a little thought to adding some life and health to one of your science units next year.