Attitude behind approach makes difference

We made salad from freshly picked greens at a recent Myers Middle School Garden Club. Thirty-four kids were with us that afternoon. And most ate. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive, including requests for second helpings. But the best, without doubt, was from a student who said, “I don’t eat vegetables. But I liked that.”

We have seen it before. We are confident that we will see it again. We think we know what’s going on. And we think there are some powerful lessons in this recurring Vegetable Project experience.

A secret salad dressing recipe is not likely the explanation for the cleaned plates. There certainly wasn’t any bribery, you know, like promises of candy in exchange for eating kale leaves first. And liking the stuff that comes from our garden is not a requirement for participating in Garden Club.

Having been at this for more than 10 years, we have seen time and again kids who insist they don’t eat vegetables or
won’t eat anything green or touch anything that grows in the dirt try what we are offering anyway. And they’ll often say it was good. The explanation, it seems to us, involves an approach that adds up to the experience that we offer.

To begin with, active, hands-on participation in whatever we are doing – hauling wheelbarrows of compost to our beds, planting, caring for plants, harvesting, chopping, mixing – fosters the equanimity that makes it easy to try something unfamiliar. This shouldn’t just be about trying vegetables. Creating opportunities for doing and touching and experiencing will win the hearts and minds of kids like no stern teacherly lecture in the world.

Then, we offer. We don’t say, “You have to.” We don’t shame. We don’t promote self-consciousness. We do say, “If you don’t like it, no big deal. Spit it out if you want. Just not on any of us.”

And we are patient.

So, would the same approach work for coaxing kids to study algebra or world history? It would be difficult to replicate all everything we do. But the bias for doing and touching and experiencing, however, the clear signal to kids that we’re delighted to see them try the unfamiliar, and really, the attitude, just could make a difference. And if our experience is any indication, getting outside now and then almost definitely also helps.

–Bill Stoneman

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