Little gardeners discover a love of the land

At Little Trotters, there is no age limit on a green thumb. As part of its holistic approach to education, the nursery has created a vegetable patch in the school yard. The young pupils, who range from two years old to five years old, are involved in every step of the process, helping to lay the top soil, plant seedlings, water the patch and even enjoy the delicious produce.

“The children love the vegetable garden,” enthuses Josie Hoar, principal at Little Trotters. “The kids love the experience of loading the top soil, the messier the better,” she says with a laugh.

“They love the experience of planting the seedlings and watching them grow. Every day, they water the seedlings. The kids are mesmerised by the garden and the process. They’re zealous gardeners.”

Josie believes every child benefits from the vegetable patch, from the younger students who love to get their hands in the soil, to the older students who can begin to understand the life cycle of a plant.

“The three- to four-year-old kids benefit the most, because they have a cognitive understanding by watching the plants grow, but for the younger kids, it’s a wonderful sensory experience,” Josie says.

“For many kids, I think it’s their first exposure to the concept of gardening.”

The vegetable patch is home to a variety of produce, including tomatoes, beans, and fresh herbs. Once the harvest is ready to be picked, it goes straight to the children’s plates. The students have helped make whole-wheat mini pizzas, topped with tomatoes from the garden; pesto with freshly-picked basil; and lemonade from the school’s lime trees.  Josie believes this hands-on approach helps the children to gain an understanding of where food comes from and encourages healthy eating.

“Every afternoon, we have a communal fruit bowl, where the kids bring in a piece of fruit and we cut it for them in a mixed fruit salad. And the children help cook every day. They’ve made lentil soup and carrot soup,” Josie explains.

“Witnessing the growth of fruit and vegetables, having healthy snacks, and baking healthy treats each day, it all comes together to encourage health eating. It’s almost a traditional value, but it’s so important.”

Josie says that in addition to academia, Little Trotters focuses on the environment by helping the children to develop a love for nature. Indeed, the school yard is a child’s paradise, with plenty of leafy trees to provide shade, a sandy playground, and a small array of farm animals, such as piglets, ducks and a Shetland pony, which the students feed daily.

“We want the kids to be in touch with nature,” Josie says. “At the end of their time at Little Trotters, I hope they’ve developed a love of and respect for nature. I want them to learn to appreciate nature through the garden.”