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Home Get Outside, Get Learning, and Get Fed!

Get Outside, Get Learning, and Get Fed!

Local Food and Nature Based Learning Benefits Children, their Communities, and the Environment

Learning in nature and incorporating food into educational curriculum is beneficial and fun for students of all ages. Not only does this approach nurture children’s curiosity for a variety of subjects including math, science and language, it helps them to develop lifelong healthy eating habits and an awareness of the natural environment in which they live.

Today, many schools and expanded learning opportunities offered afterschool and during the summer purchase locally grown produce from small to medium-sized farmers to freshen up their menus and to teach children and youth about seasonal, healthy eating. This benefits local farmers and, in turn, local economies and the environment. Students, families, farmers, and the environment all have something to gain from eating locally grown fruits and vegetables by incorporating hands on nature-based lessons and experiential learning into programs.

Resources & Tips to Freshen Up Your Menu

Today, most children and youth are removed from where food comes from, especially those who do not have access to affordable produce. Many Americans live in food deserts, which are communities with very few or no grocery stores in walking distance, or those in walking distance are too expensive for the residents of the neighborhood.[1] 

Eating locally connects children and youth to their food systems and to the environment, but the high cost of such foods is often a deterrent for providers and families alike. The following resources provide information on how to incorporate fresh and/or local foods into menus on a limited budget.

The Farm to Table Program in Seattle assists youth programs in purchasing locafoods both through financial and logistical support in order to improve the health and wellbeing of children and youth in Seattle who need it most. 

The Farm to School Program assists schools in procuring fresh foods, educates students about food systems, and grows and manages school gardens. The program exists in various forms in all 50 states.  

The Lunch Box Newsletter is a resource for school district food service teams interested in serving meals cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients. The newsletter offers best practices for the transition from preparing processed meals to fresh ones. 

Eat Seasonally to get better prices on and more nutrition in your local foods. There is often a dip in price during a crop’s peak harvest season because there is a surplus of that item. Learn more about commonly grown crops in Washington and when they are in season. 

Food Hubs aggregate locally grown foods, allowing consumers to purchase a variety of groceries in one place. The Puget Sound Food Hub is one option in King County but there are many like it throughout Washington State. 

Farmers’ Markets are a fun and convenient way to purchase locally grown foods. Many farmers’ markets today accept SNAP-EBT, WIC and Senior FMNP vouchers. The WA Farmers Market website provides a directory to locate a farmer’s market near you. 

More Resources to Enhance Your Curriculum

Children and youth experience many benefits when learning where food comes from and how to prepare it, including a change in their eating habits and/or develop an interest for environmental science. Cooking, gardening, and other food-related curriculum can be applied to science, literacy, and math in engaging, hands-on ways.

The following resources, lesson ideas and research tools, will help enhance your curriculum and engage young people on these issues:

Tilth Alliance in King County brings nutrition, gardening, and a conservation curriculum to you through their Mobile Garden Classroom. In these hands-on lessons, preschoolers through third graders are engaged in a variety of topics, such as soil, worms, arthropods, and more. 

The Junior Chef Competition gives students a voice on the matter of school meals and gets them excited about the food they are eating in the lunchroom through a team competition to create a school lunch that meets USDA requirements. The same principles of this competition could be applied to afterschool and summer programs enrolled in the USDA afterschool and summer meals programs. 

The Edible School Yard Project has created a search engine by specific subjects, age groups and seasons to find food related curriculum and resources. 

Lesson Ideas

“The Magic of Butter”

Age Group: Pre-kindergarten through 2nd graders

Objective: Understand the difference between solid and liquid states through the process of making butter. Required materials are inexpensive and the lesson can take place in a variety of spaces, including classrooms, gardens, kitchens and more. 

“Garden Shapes Scavenger Hunt”

Age Group: Kindergarten and 1st graders

Objective: Learn about geometric shapes found outside, in plants or in structures of a garden. Students will observe and practice identifying and sketching shapes in the garden.

“The Great Seed Hunt”

Age Group: 1st through 3rd graders

Objective: Understand the life-cycle of plants, the characteristics of seeds, and sorting methods, as they relate to math and science. Students observe and collect seeds in the garden and sort them into groups with similar characteristics. 

“Cardinal Directions Without a Compass”

Age Group: Kindergarten through 4th graders

Objective: Learn the four cardinal directions using sticks and shadows. They are able to geometrically determine north, east, south and west based on the angles and lengths of shadows created by sticks. 

“Sunflowers and the Fibonacci Sequence”

Age Group: 6th through 9th graders

Objective: Identify Fibonacci numbers in nature by examining the petals and seeds of sunflowers. Students count and record the number and shape of seeds and relate this pattern to the Fibonacci sequence.

School’s Out Washington (SOWA) works to support expanded learning opportunities for children and youth throughout the state through a four pronged approach: policy and advocacy, quality and training, grants to programs, and racial equity. For more information, contact SOWA at: info@schoolsoutwashington.org.

[1] https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/documentation/#definitions