UAPB Project Teaches Pre-K Children to Grow Healthy Vegetables

Pre-K children at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s (UAPB) Child Development Center (CDC) recently had the opportunity to learn how to garden indoors, Dr. Karleah Harris, assistant professor for the UAPB Department of Human Sciences, said. The young children learned how to grow mung beans through an inquiry-based learning curriculum under the guidance of Dr. Harris and undergraduate student assistants.

“Research shows that children are more likely to engage in healthy eating habits when actively growing their foods,” Dr. Harris said. “Over the course of the spring semester, we instructed students and their teachers on how healthy produce can be grown indoors. As part of the exercise, children actively engaged in science inquiry by making predictions, observing the different growth stages of the mung beans, constructing explanations, drawing conclusions and communicating their findings.”

Dr. Marilyn Bailey, interim chair for the Department of Human Sciences, said the project is a great example of how young children can be exposed to the fundamental concepts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and have fun while learning.

“I was eager to work with the students who expressed willingness to engage in different science learning inquiry activities,” Dr. Harris said. “I was also impressed by the teachers’ ability to teach, be responsive, present and provide care to the students when they needed it.”

The project is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (award number # 2021-38821-34712). It was developed in partnership with Dr. Kieu Le of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, as well as Dr. Janette Wheat, Dr. Felicia Taylor Waller and Dr. Nicholas Romano, co-principal investigators at UAPB.

“I have enjoyed working with Dr. Harris and our other researchers on this grant project,” Dr. Wheat said. “Most of all, I appreciated seeing the children’s engagement in real-life action research, observing their interactions, excitement and inquiry while planting, growing, cultivating and caring for the plants. Moreover, all the plants grew beautifully, tasted fresh and delicious and delivered nourishment to our bodies, minds and spirits.”

Dr. Taylor Waller said it was exciting to see the collaborative efforts of the project investigators come to life in the hands and minds of the young learners. Dr. Le said she enjoyed working on the grant with Dr. Harris and the other co-principle investigators.

Dr. Romano is looking into expanding the project by setting up an aquaponics system for the pre-K learners. Aquaponics is the sustainable practice of combining fish and terrestrial plant culture.

“We recently set up an aquaponic system in one of the local elementary schools and believe setting up smaller units for the pre-K children could provide them with an engaging experience,” he said. “I look forward to working with Dr. Harris and UAPB-CDC on this.”