by Jajiba Chowdhury
Green Thumbs’ mission is “to work with urban children, youth and their families to learn about, grow and prepare fresh foods, cultivated in an environmentally sustainable manner, in hands-on programs.” When I read this statement on the Green Thumbs website, I immediately knew where I wanted to complete my final internship as a fourth year student at Ryerson University in Early Childhood Studies.
As a child, I was very engaged with the physical environment, from playing at the neighbourhood park to camping and fishing. These are my fondest childhood memories. Within the educational system, however, my classmates and I had very few opportunities to connect with nature, whether to learn about plant and flower species or the environment as a whole.
Green Thumbs Growing Kids programs tackle this disconnect by empowering children’s food literacy through environmental and gardening programs on school grounds. During my semester with Green Thumbs, I was able to co-lead programs such as Sow and Save, Garden Buddies and more.
Through Sow and Save, children learned about seed anatomy and more by going into the school garden and saving seeds for the next season. The children were fascinated by the different kinds of vegetables and their seeds, excited to share their connections to food, and eager to be in the garden. Whenever we weren’t able to go outside due to the weather or time constraints, a sullen “AWWWW” washed over the classroom.
But when opportunities arose, the children were dressed, lined up, and waiting to go outside. They bustled through the garden, enthusiastically comparing and sometimes trading seeds with their peers. In this photo, they showcase seeds they gathered from dried beans.
In Garden Buddies, older children were paired with younger children. Pairs made and distributed compost around the garden, took care of plants and flowers, and even made salsa!
A leaf printing activity really took the children by surprise. First, they collected leaves, then placed them in between layers of fabric. Next, they pounded the fabric with a heavy wooden ball. When the fabric was opened, an imprint was left behind. “WHOA, do you see that?,” said one child. “Look, look, it’s the flower “Cool! How does it do that?,” said another. “It’s like magic!”
With limited green spaces in Toronto, Green Thumbs is one of the few organizations that exposes children to our beautiful natural world, where our food comes from, and how to grow it. Their gardens offer powerful and fun educational experiences that are curriculum-linked to both science and art.
I got to see first hand the plethora of learning that can occur within a garden, and that children enjoy and are fully engaged in garden activities. Without Green Thumbs, children in these downtown neighbourhoods might miss out on the magic of nature.