Toby Mills, 5, displays his gardening skills at the Randolph Child Development Center.
Ana Guadron, a caregiver at the Randolph Child Development Center, shows Alyssa Forehand, 3, and Hayden Holcombe, 5, how to use a shovel in the center’s garden.
RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas —
A group of budding gardeners at Randolph is planting the seeds for a greener America and not one of them is more than 5 years old.
They're all children at Randolph's Child Development Center and their botanical education rivals that of students years older.
Throughout the year the children learn about the life cycle of plants, watching herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers grow as their appreciation for living things blossoms. The toddlers in Rooms 1 and 2 grow herbs while the 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds in Rooms 3-6 tackle bigger assignments, primarily vegetables and fruits.
"I think it's awesome that the children experience hands-on learning from the beginning," said Theresa Duncan, program supervisor at the award-winning CDC, which last year was named Air Force Services' Child Development Program of the Year. "They get to plant seeds, watch the plants grow, harvest them and even use them for cooking activities. You should see their faces when they see them grow."
She said the gardening experience gives children at Randolph's CDC a big head start on their peers.
"These are things many children don't experience until elementary school or later," said Ms. Duncan.
One of the program leaders with a green approach to early childhood education is Ana Guadron, who recently earned the 12th Services Division's Spark Plug Award. A native of El Salvador who has worked at the CDC since 2003, is one of two caregivers responsible for two dozen 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds in Room 6. She said the gardening enrichment program teaches the children about the life cycle of plants and exposes them to environmental concerns at an early age.
"They observe the cycle as a seed turns into a fruit, vegetable or flower. They see the differences and similarities between plants, learn about photosynthesis and why plants need water and they even make compost," she said.
The program provides them with an environment to learn other skills as well.
"They develop social skills," she said. "They work together in a group, help each other and look for solutions."
Ms. Guadron said the students also learn to write the names of the plants and acquire mathematical skills in their exercises.
"They count seeds; they classify seeds, vegetables and fruits by color, size and shape and graph them to measure their growth," she said.
Ms. Guadron said the process begins with the children learning about seeds.
"First they smell and touch the seeds," she said. "That's how they learn at their age - by manipulating, touching and feeling the seeds and the soil. Then we talk about the differences and similarities."
The children place the seeds in plastic cups filled with soil, then later plant the growing organisms in the garden on the playground behind the child development center and watch them grow into pumpkins, yellow corn, squash, pinto beans, carrots, broccoli and numerous other fruits and vegetables. Ms. Guadron has added the pepinillo, a cucumber from Central America, to the mix.
The children also learn about the critters that are attracted to the garden - amphibians such as frogs, reptiles like lizards and insects from caterpillars to ladybugs, she said.
The students' efforts are well-chronicled with posters and scrapbooks filled with photographs. The learning aids help reinforce what the children have learned.
"We keep a picture of everything we do," Ms. Guadron said. "You have to do it over and over again."
Ms. Guadron said she's proud of what the children are accomplishing at such an early age. It is her hope that all they really need to know they will learn before kindergarten.
"When I send these children to kindergarten, I want them to be more than ready," she said.
One of her students, Jazlyn Ingram, appears to be ready at age 4. She knows exactly what it takes to make a garden grow.
"I dig a little hole and put some seeds in it," she said.