The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Toddlers learn valuable lessons in new NE park

By Kenney Kost/ne news editor

Abby Pucel, Hailey Warzecha and Connor Hartle walk through the new Garden Park on NE Campus searching for weeds, overgrowth and ripe vegetables to pick.

Normally, a group of toddlers watching a playground being torn down at their day care center would evoke sadness and even tears, but this was not the case at the NE Children’s Center.

Last fall, it was decided that something had to be done with one of the center’s two playgrounds. Now, it has become a garden where the children can play.

The former playground had become unsightly. The old equipment direly needed an upgrade, said assistant professor of child development Pati Cates.

“We had a very unfriendly playground, not like our front playground,” she said. “And so we had been looking at the research on gardening with young children, specifically, a program out of New England called Early Sprouts.”

Early Sprouts, based on accumulated research, suggests that children plant at least five vegetables to help them acquire an understanding of vegetables and their health, Cates said. The research shows children need to be introduced to a particular vegetable roughly 30 times before they become comfortable with it. Cates said establishing a relationship with vegetables early on helps their health and well-being.

“Children don’t walk, they run,” said NE Children’s Center master teacher Barbara Smith. The Garden Park offers children a place to go if they need space, fresh air or simply want to run and play.
Photos by Carrie Duke/The Collegian

“Since we want children to have a more appealing and happy relationship with vegetables instead of what they typically have, that’s what started the thinking,” she said. “The unattractive outside play environment and the fact that, since we are now doing our own cooking here at the center, we wanted to introduce gardening to the children and what the process of gardening was all about.”

While the center’s staff was doing its thinking, geology instructor David Sallee had contemplated getting a garden up and running on the campus as well.

“We each had our own ideas for a garden,” he said. “It was lead groundskeeper John Tilley that suggested we work together.”

The process began with the removal of the old playground equipment by the grounds crew while the children looked on and had conversations about their play equipment being taken away, Cates said.

The children then helped with the design and observed as the crew installed the underground watering system and helped put down the beds of dirt and mulch for planting.

Now, more than a year later, the garden is filled with vegetables, perennials and a sensory area containing fruits and herbs.

“They love it,” Cates said. “They call it the garden park, and they come out and play and manipulate the materials.”

Five-year-olds Abby Pucel and Hailey Warzecha and 4-year-old Conner Hartle were tending the garden with Children’s Center master teacher Barbara Smith.

“It’s their garden, something they enjoy,” Smith said. “They are learning to respect plants, their environment and the fact that we can grow our own food.”

The children are learning basic tending knowledge, such as how to weed a garden, keep it contained and not to pick fruits or vegetables before they are ripe, Smith said.

Abby said she loved the garden but was a little sad at first.

“I kind of liked the playground,” she said. “I’m happy now, though.”

“We get to plant things,” Hailey said.

“Well, we used to plant things,” Abby said.

“Yeah, now we make things grow,” Hailey said.

Connor and Hailey love the “purple ones” while Abby “likes all of them.”

They don’t go out to the garden every day, Abby said, “just a little bit days.”

The end goal, Cates said, is to implement a garden curriculum by next year.

“We want to develop a curriculum based on sensory and gardening experiences,” she said. “Each classroom has set as a goal to, each week, do some sort of activity using the garden. We’re developing it this year. Then we will evaluate it and implement it with our college students next year.”

Sallee hopes to implement the garden into his curriculum in some way as well. He enjoys the work everyone is doing and believes it is good for everyone involved.

“Hopefully, I have added to the education of the children,” he said. “I know they have added to mine. Gardening is hot, tiring work, but it is also fun, therapeutic, relaxing, joyful, spiritual and tasty. I cannot understand why everyone doesn’t do it.”

In the background, picking string beans, Connor shouts, “This is so much fun!”

Donate to The Collegian

Your donation will support the student journalists of Tarrant County College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Collegian