A cluster of preschoolers raced each other to the backyard of the LSU Child Development Laboratory School on Sept. 21 to find the seeds they planted a few days before had blossomed into purple petunias.
After “oohing” and “ahhing” at the sight, 3-year-old Carrie and 4-year-old Caleb fetched water to pour over the flowers they grew with the help of LSU College of Agriculture professor Ed Bush’s nursery management class.
Bush’s nursery management class adopted the preschool’s learning garden as part of a service learning project. His students used their knowledge of soil composition to build beds of a mixed bark, peat moss and sand media.
Bush’s students planted one section with Louisiana crops, including sugarcane, soybeans, sunflowers and petunias. The other section was an herb garden, complete with mint, basil, rosemary, chives, curry and oregano spices.
“We literally did it all in an hour and a half,” Bush said.
For the service learning activity, each LSU student was paired with a Lab student. Both the collegians and pre-kindergartners learned something new from the experience.
Though some of the children were initially standoffish, horticulture senior Garrett Tillman said they eventually jumped in, patted the soil and made dashes for the watering cans.
“It’s really good for kids who don’t do well with traditional teaching techniques, so it’s hands-on and less structured,” Tillman said. “That’s why pretty much everyone who’s in horticulture is in horticulture.”
By introducing the preschoolers to plants, Tillman said they can have a better understanding of where their food comes from.
Bush said studies show young children are more likely to eat vegetables they grow on their own. He said the learning garden and herb bed allow them to trace the origins of their food and be more comfortable eating them.
Preschool Teaching Associate Sarah West said the children plan to cook the vegetables and herbs they grew for a class
assignment. She said they already made mint chocolate chip ice cream from the chocolate mint leaves in the herb garden.
West said they anticipate making scented Play-Doh with the rosemary and basil leaves for the kids to play with.
She said her students gained a sense of responsibility by working with the plants, and monitoring their growth has taught them how to take care of something important to them.
“We’ve been watering [the plants], and they’ve been getting sunshine,” West said. “They have the responsibility to come in each day.”
Bush said the partnership was a win-win scenario for LSU because the preschool can experiment while the university gains valuable service experience. He also said it allowed both groups of students to engage in an “outside classroom.”
He said educators who do not introduce children to a wide range of activities at a young age are missing a crucial point.
Bush said a child’s exposure to as many academic experiences as possible can only broaden their horizons later.
Though the preschoolers learned how to foster a green thumb, Bush’s class learned just as much from the Child Development Laboratory School.
While it was a challenge to take a college-level mindset and translate it to 3-year-olds, Tillman said it was well worth the experience. Bush said he learned to never underestimate a child’s potential.
“They’re amazingly intuitive — very curious — and we need to stimulate that,” Bush said. “Science is something you have to experience to know what it is.”