Learning and Growing Together: Auburn University of Montgomery Early Learning Center’s Farm to ECE Success Story

This article has been written by Emily Campbell, Coordinator for the AL Healthy Kids, Healthy Future program, a partner of the Alabama Farm to ECE Coalition.

This past fall, Auburn University of Montgomery (AUM)’s Early Learning Center took part in the Farm to ECE Learning Collaborative! Being involved in the Learning Collaborative has sparked a love for gardening, especially for Lead Teacher Chelsea Neeley. Chelsea now shares what she learns about gardening with the children in her classroom every day.

 Chelsea has been leading their gardening projects in the classroom and their outdoor space, offering children a variety of opportunities to learn about gardening and how plants grow. Chelsea and their student teachers have even found ways to include the children’s interests in the garden, adding their favorite figures and toys to make the garden even more inviting.

Chelsea has created 3 garden groups for the 18 children in their class to allow everyone to be in the garden throughout the week. Each garden group has a day during the week where they complete the garden tasks for the day, watering and caring for the vegetables, herbs, and flowers they have planted.  

The families with AUM’s Early Learning Center have been involved in the garden activities from the beginning. The Early Learning Center team started offering a garden donation jar for families to contribute to at pick-up and drop-off, and many families have donated funds, seeds, and supplies for their indoor and outdoor gardening activities.

Various groups on AUM’s campus have also taken part in the fun, donating materials and time to enhance the garden and provide nutrition activities. Before they started their garden, the nutrition department provided various nutrition activities and taste tests for the children. This inspired many more lessons where taste tests of various fruits and vegetables were incorporated into existing lessons, including a lesson about bears that included many types of berries! 

If you have ever grown a garden, you probably know that it can be unpredictable! Throughout their center’s time with their garden, there have been many learning opportunities for staff and children to find solutions for helping their garden grow to its fullest. 

At first, their seedlings were having some trouble growing. One of the student’s grandparents is a master gardener and noticed that their seedlings had not been doing well and offered their guidance to figure out what the seedlings would need to grow stronger. The master gardener took the seedlings home and nursed them back to health – once they were brought back, the students planted them, and they are now thriving! Now, almost all the plants in their raised bed garden were started from seed by their students! 

When we visited the AUM Early Learning Center, we had a chance to help in the center’s garden and learn from the garden group of the day. Once we went outside, the students began sharing with us what they had planted so far, how it was growing, and what they had been learning from the garden. Some children explained to us how the tomatoes they had planted will look once they are ready to harvest, and even showed me the labels they had for each plant. One child shared with us that their favorite part of the garden is getting to eat it once it’s ready to harvest!

While out in the garden, we agreed that some of their plants may need a little bit of fertilizer to help them grow. We talked about what fertilizer is used for, and how it is like the food we eat, providing nutrients to the plants and making them grow stronger. After sharing how fertilizer is used in the garden with the garden group, each child had a chance to water, prune plants, and add a small amount of fertilizer to the plants.  

The AUM Early Learning Center Garden has provided a wealth of knowledge and excitement for the children, families, and staff in their program. We’re excited to see the impact of the Farm to ECE Learning Collaborative for this program and we can’t wait to continue watching their garden thrive!