Children have an innate affinity for nature, sensory play and experiential learning that we see every day at JCC Day Camps.
The Torah teaches us a lot about the importance of nature. From the start, the book of Bereshit details God’s creations of heaven and earth. Each time God created something in this epic beginning story of the world, the Torah says, v’erah elokim ki tov or God saw that it was good.
The most poignant part of this timeless creation narrative may be the third day, which sheds light on the importance of nature and its power to produce our sustenance.
On the third day, God said, “let the earth sprout vegetation, seed yielding herbs and fruit trees producing fruit according to its kind in which its seed is found, on the earth,” and it was so. The text goes on to discuss how the vegetation created seeds, each to his own kind and trees produced fruit with seeds according to their kind, and God saw it was good. Before animals and people, and even before the stars, God created vegetation and trees bearing fruits. He created the seeds that would spread and scatter, yielding edible vegetables and herbs, fruits and flowers throughout the globe.
In three days, God turned a land that was tohu vavohu, formless and void, into one that was filled with vegetation and trees producing fruit, a seed of each kind. How can we apply this to our own lives and what does this mean in relation to young children?
We know that above all of the things created, the fruits and the vegetables, the trees and the seeds were paramount. For young children, the notion of playing in the dirt, of planting a seed, of watering something comes more naturally than perhaps anything else.
At J&R Day Camp a few years back, we transformed an abandoned old field into a lush garden full to the brim with zinnias and sunflowers, tomatoes and cucumbers, basil and parsley (and a few chickens too!) We, together with young children, turned land that was tohu vavohu into land that was ripe with food to eat, flowers to smell, and exploratory experiences to be had. All this really took was some compost and soil, some seeds and some love. We, as the book of Genesis described, saw that this was good.
At the JCC South Hills, the garden is used by summer camp children and the Early Childhood Development Center, and is shared with members and many other local organizations through the South Hills Interfaith Ministries Community Gardens. This partnership not only opens the garden for many more people to enjoy it, but also brings the community closer together.
To be outside in nature and to grow something from a tiny seed is a true miracle to watch unfold. Letting a child be an active participant in this takes the miraculous nature of growing our own food to the next level. There are moments of joy and sometimes trepidation (can I really pick up that worm?!) There are moments of doubt (wait, you mean we are eating the eggs like now?!) and pride (the sunflowers are over 10 feet tall!!) Above all, there are so many moments of “seeing that it is good.” Turning land, any land (a tiny garden box, an acre, our expanding garden at camp), from tohu vavohu to land full of things growing is ki tov because it is just that good.
Your child can tend to our gardens and experience so much more this summer at J&R Day Camp and South Hills Day Camps.
J&R Day Camp: Lewis Sohinki, 412-697-3537
South Hills Day Camp: Jason Haber, 412-278-1975
Adapted from a blog by Casey Weiss, who spent many summers at JCC camps as a camper, staff and Garden Specialist and started J&R’s sustainable garden.