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Forsyth Extension Office starts new kids' program
Dylan McCall, a 2015 Winter Sprout, pours dirt into his homemade pot at the Cumming Library on Feb. 21. Dylan and other Master Gardener Sprouts have been learning about plants through hands-on activities, games and journaling activities. - photo by Erin O. Smith

CUMMING — During a day when ice covered most of Forsyth County, 10 of the 12 enrolled children showed up at the Cumming Library for the fourth session of Master Gardener Sprouts to learn about planting vegetables.

Third-grader Dylan McCall planted two garlic plants at the previous session — one for his younger sister, Delia, and one for himself.

With his sister missing the session because of softball practice, Dylan said he planted one for her because “she would be sad if I didn’t do one for her.”

The home-schooled boy hopes to plant a garden filled with strawberries and garlic this year.

Forsyth is one of four counties participating in the new program geared toward teaching young children, between ages of 5 and 9, the importance of gardening.

“It helps connect them with the natural world and gives them an appreciation of where their food comes from,” said Forsyth County Extension agent Heather Kolich. “They also learn that there is a whole lot of biology below the soil as well.”

Meeting every other Saturday until March 21 in Cumming, the sessions include a story about gardening or horticulture, a hands-on activity and a time to journal their lesson for the day.

“It increases their awareness in what’s going on around them,” said Lou Vanek, project manager.

“It’s not just the gardening. It’s the fact that gardening relates to the math concepts, the science concepts and the thinking skills.”

At the first session, the young sprouts learned what a sunflower house was through literature and completed an exercise dealing with sunflower seeds.

“They had sunflower seeds and made glue with flower and paste,” Kolich said. “They made seed tapes with the seeds. And in the summer, they will be able to plant those in the yard and perhaps make their own sunflower house.”

Each session builds on the last as the children make new educational connections and new friends.

During the class Feb. 21, children used soil they had prepared in a previous session to plant their ugly vegetable, garlic.

“We thought the kids might be concerned about getting dirty because they had to mix the dirt,” Vanek said. “We bought gloves for them and they took them all off. They just wanted to get in there.”

Kelly Mill Elementary student Isabella Bowermaster said the garlic she planted won’t be ready until November because garlic takes three growing seasons to mature.

“It’s actually fun because you get to learn about plant stuff you don’t know,” the first-grader said.

Bowermaster said she looks forward to making vegetable soup with the ripened garlic.

“They need to know where food comes from and you just don’t go to the grocery store and pick it up,” Vanek said.

Dylan McCall’s mother, Kristi, is thankful for the class.

“They are getting to learn a lot of new things that I might not think of teaching them,” she said.

The mother, who likes gardening herself, has learned a few things from the class and is happy her children enjoy coming.

“They did a lot of planning to make it successful and the fact that it was free was a huge bonus,” McCall said.

Kolich enjoys teaching younger children the importance of getting outside and about the environment around them.

“Playing in the dirt is actually healthy for you,” she said. “It helps build your immune system and gets you out in the sunshine to get vitamin D.