Purple okra. It’s a real vegetable and we’re growing it in the Rainbows’ Garden for Children. While it’s not a preferred taste for the children, they do like its color. Cucumbers are a favorite snack and a healthy crop of basil has added flavor to several lunches created by Chef Ryan, Rainbows’ cook.
“We plant, grow, harvest and eat what we grow,” said Stefanie Loubert, Lead Teacher in the Infant Room and gardener. “We share the vegetables and fruits with parents and Rainbows’ staff. The kids are always excited to point out the basket of veggies to their parents when they pick them up.”
The six garden beds in the Kids’ Point backyard were carefully planned to be accessible for all children at Kids’ Point. The sides of the beds are low to the ground and 3 foot pathways between the beds ensure access for all children. Volunteers built the raised garden beds in 2019. In the spring, volunteers prepared the beds for planting by weeding and adding new soil then winterized them in the fall by removing old plants.
Thanks to funds from The GroMoreGood Grassroots Grant presented by Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation and KidsGardening and a large donation of plants from Johnson’s Garden Center in Wichita, the garden was expanded and enhanced this year.
New trellises made it possible to plant more of the children’s favorites, like cucumbers, tomatoes, pumpkins and squash. “I love tomatoes!” said 5-year-old Emma. “Especially the baby tomatoes.” Watermelons and cantaloupe are also a healthy treat for the children. The children love to watch the “baby” melons grow and anticipate the day when they get to pick them.
Container gardens were planted on the patio of the infant room for the youngest children to enjoy. The herb garden was expanded, a strawberry container planted, and a new butterfly garden added. “The children like the herbs because of the smells,” said Stefanie. “We have several different types of mint, basil and thyme. The butterfly garden fueled lots of new conversations and lessons about butterflies and bees. The strawberry plants were slow starters. Three-year-old Kelsey was so excited when there was finally a ripe strawberry. She got to pick and eat the first one. The excitement on her face was priceless! Just this week the plants produced quite a few strawberries and the toddler room enjoyed them. There will be more strawberries soon!”
Stefanie teaches the children that besides watering, you also need to pull weeds. Some of the children like to get their hands dirty and others want to wear gloves like Miss Stefanie. There are always plenty of hands to help harvest what is grown.
“The children love to share stories of their home gardens with their classroom and then they talk to their parents about the garden they have at Rainbows,” said Stefanie. “I’m happy that I am able to share my passion for gardening with the children here at Rainbows. It helps them learn that the seeds we plant have to be nurtured with sun and water, love and attention. It is rewarding for the children to watch the different plants grow, and it is also a disappointment if the plants suddenly die or get eaten by bugs. ‘Miss Stefanie, do you remember the corn last year? It died,’ 4-year-old Isaiah asked.”
“Everything about the garden is educational,” said Stefanie. “The preparation, the planting, the care and attention, the harvesting, the tasting and the dying. It is all part of the circle of life.”