Health Education at Mastro Montessori: The Curious Gardener Summer Camp
By Clare Logan, Director, Mastro Montessori
October 19th– 23rd is National Health Education Week and a time to remember the importance of good nutrition, getting adequate amounts of sleep, staying physically active, and reducing or eliminating screen time for students of all ages. While these lifestyle choices all differ based on the age and development of each child, health disparities in our youth continue to exist. According to the CDC, health inequity is attributable to historical and current unequal distribution of social, political, economic, and environmental resources. “Health disparities result from multiple factors including poverty, environmental threats, inadequate access to health care, individual and behavioral factors, and educational inequalities.” Further studies have shown that dropping out of school can be associated in some cases with social and health issues including obesity, substance abuse, and intentional or unintentional injury. Living a healthier lifestyle has proven to increase life expectancy and exists in direct correlation with receiving a higher education. At the very least, understanding basic health information and the health services available will lead to making better lifestyle choices.
In an effort to educate children on the importance of nutrition, ease of gardening, and importance of sustainability, Mastro Montessori Academy and WEforum together have created the Curious Gardener Summer Program for elementary-aged children. This four-week summer program has been running successfully over the past few years (apart from the summer of 2020 due to COVID) and will run again in 2022. With the generous support of Monmouth Medical Center, we provide camp scholarships for between 12-15 children from the Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County. Not only is the camp a fun experience for the children who attend, it also helps empower and educate them to make smart food choices and learn how to garden on their own.
Campers, who may otherwise not have access to this information, learn about the environment, pollinators, birds, composting, vermiculture and many other food and food-chain related subjects through a hands-on approach. The children are actively involved to enhance the experience and create a learning environment that includes as many senses as possible to ignite whole brain learning. The hope is to encourage the love of nature and gardening through activities and planned projects, including the business of running a green market. Campers explore health and nutrition topics through reading, math, science, writing, and art and come away with knowledge of environmental sustainability, nutrition, and community service.
School and community gardens are hugely helpful in health education, broadening children’s perspectives and empowering them to self-sustain. Growing their own food makes them more likely to try new fresh, non-processed foods. Ron Finley, the Gangsta Gardener of South-Central LA and former keynote speaker for WEforum’s Eat for Life Conference, began to grow food in his own community garden due to the lack of available fresh produce in his neighborhood. People were choosing fast-food over whole foods due to convenience and cost. “Drive-throughs are killing more people than drive-bys,” Ron frequently mentions at his speaking engagements. His efforts to beautify his low-income neighborhood by building, creating, and maintaining community gardens has spread a wild fever throughout the nation. “When you teach a child to grow a carrot, they will eat a carrot,” Ron likes to say. The Curious Gardener program adopted this message and hopes to spread it to our neighboring communities through the children.
Health education is essential for students to help them make good, healthy lifestyle and nutrition choices. School and home/community gardens can play a significant role in educating students on these topics, which could ultimately stave off a chronic illness or increase life expectancy. Support your community and school gardens. They are essential to changing our healthcare paradigm and providing a pathway to providing better resources and tools for anyone to make better lifestyle choices.
WEforum’s mission is to help educate the community on how to take better care of themselves and their families. The monies raised from their events and programs go towards free health and wellness programs and services that are free and accessible to everyone in our community. Montessori Academy has been a proud partner of WEforum for the last 4 years and together we have built a program that we can share with the entire community, not just our students.