In the Montessori community, food is used as a vehicle for education. Because fast food is so readily available in our society, less time is spent in the cultivation and preparation of food. Many children have no idea of the raw state of food (in particular, there are few children under the age of four who get to see food in its raw state).
We have a responsibility to assist young children in developing attitudes and habits about food that will contribute to their lifelong health; additionally, we need to assist children in coming to know and master their reality by working on it. In the context of food, this entails allowing the child to see how food is cultivated, viewing food in its raw state (seeing a whole watermelon, not cut up bits of fruit), participating in food preparation activities, and setting a table, serving food, and clearing a table independently (not coming to a table which is set and cleared by an adult). Like all Practical Life activities, food cultivation also aids the young child in developing coordinated, refined movement (hoeing, raking, digging, balancing a wheelbarrow, etc).
In furtherance of these goals, the children have begun planting and maintaining an organic, heirloom, vegetable garden at the school.
This week, the children began planting vegetables that can tolerate a light frost and cooler temperatures, beginning with root vegetables. We planted three varieties of heirloom carrots (Scarlet Nantes, Parisian Market, and beautiful purple-red Dragon carrots)and two varieties of heirloom radishes (Early Scarlet Globe and French Breakfast).
They turned over the soil one last time,
smoothed it out with the rakes,
meticulously sowed rows of carrots and radishes,
and exuberantly watered the garden beds.
In order to achieve a better understanding of what they were planting, the children also conducted a radish tasting and a carrot tasting, in which they were given vegetables in their "raw" state (with stems and leaves attached). In the classroom, the children have been learning about the functions and names of different parts of plants; as a result, they were particularly excited to learn that when they eat carrots and radishes, they are eating the roots of the plants.
During the tastings, the children were encouraged to make judgments about the foods they were tasting and use descriptive language to communicate their thoughts, helping them to develop a more sophisticated palate and a rich vocabulary.
Radishes and carrots are a wonderful choice for a children's garden because of their relatively quick germinating time. With a little luck they can be plucked from their beds and land on our table in no time!