By LOIS KINDLE
It’s part of the culture at Kids ‘R’ Kids Southshore to provide children with experiential learning opportunities. So when owners Carrie Elwell and her husband, Kevin, opened Kids ‘R’ Kids Waterset last month, they integrated that same philosophical approach to learning.
Both facilities offer all kinds of hands-on educational activities to enhance learning and develop good character. The latest — hydroponic gardening — was introduced last week at Kids ‘R’ Kids Waterset.
The idea is for children to understand the origins of food and its value.
“What’s important about a project like this is that it gets kids involved in the process of growing food and teaches them where it come from,” said Elwell, who added access to water and electricity for a hydroponic garden during construction. “It’s a fun way for them to learn discipline and responsibility and to see the results of their efforts.”
Thanks to farmer John Lawson, co-owner of Hydro Harvest Farms in Ruskin, after-school children at Kids ‘R’ Kids Waterset will have the opportunity to do all those things.
Lawson set up a 12-tower system of polystyrene, stackable pots and a nutrient pump at the school a couple of weeks ago, and then returned to talk about hydroponic farming with about a dozen of the 50 kids who will participate in the program. He explained and demonstrated how they will plant and care for the veggies and herbs they’ll be growing, and then let them loose to make knuckle-length holes in the dirt and plant pelletized seeds (coated with clay that dissolves when wet).
“Kids who garden generally have better diets,” Lawson said. “They will try something they’ve grown and have more appreciation for what they eat.”
Lawson added that the experience of planting, maintaining and harvesting a garden has other benefits. In addition to discipline and responsibility, the kids learn to practice, feel the excitement of both possibility and anticipation, and experience the satisfaction of a job well done.
“It also gets them away from the computer screen,” he said.
On Aug. 22, children planted seeds to grow radishes, tomatoes, peppers, carrots and several herbs, as well as cucumbers, for which Lawson put up webbing over the pre-school’s wrought-iron fence so the plants could climb.
Lawson, who sold the hydroponic system to the Elwells at a discount, said he will provide support to ensure the children’s success.
“We won’t let them fail,” he said. “The towers feed and water themselves, so the system is pretty much self-sufficient. The kids will watch their plants grow and check for pests and diseases. I’ll be coming back, as needed, to monitor for any potential issues.”
Hydro Harvest Farms is at 1101 Shell Point Road E., Ruskin. Lawson grows seasonal U-pick vegetables, herbs and fruits year-round, sells hydroponic gardening systems and supplies and offers free classes on hydroponic gardening, canning and other subjects.
The next hydroponics class is Sept. 9 at 10 a.m. For more information, call 813-645-6574.
Kids ‘R’ Kids Waterset is at 6406 Covington Garden Drive, Apollo Beach. For preschool or after-school information, call 813-641-0101.