Growing Together is an initiative in partnership with Koomseh, a transition housing branch of Atira Women’s Resource Society. Atira is dedicated to supporting women and children affected by violence by offering safe and supportive housing and delivering education aimed at ending all forms of gendered violence.
The aim of Growing Together is to engage kids aged 3–12 in social and emotional learning through fun and inclusive literacy, numeracy, science, and nature-focused activities, often outside in the garden. While growing food together, the kids grow together as learners!
You can see more details about Koomseh on the Atira website, here.
I'm greeted at the door by three enthusiastic children who pull me inside. Upstairs, the Saturday morning pancake breakfast is finishing up and the kids are eager to find out what we’re doing today. The most pressing, Mike*, is also the pessimist of the bunch: “What are we doing today? I’m probably going to be bored!” He moves to turn away with an exasperated groan, and I gesture to the pile of baking supplies I’ve collected on the counter. His eyes widen. “We’re baking?!” He runs back to his peers to share the exciting news. Last Saturday, I had asked the older kids what they’d most like to do and holiday baking was the resounding request.
We lay out a selection of new colouring and activity pages for the kids while the group gets settled. The program is currently set for kids 3 years and up, so a couple of the younger children at the pancake breakfast go home with their mothers. Mike’s baby brother stays with us under the care of one of the Atira staff - Mom is having a rough day, and this is her one break in the week from taking care of her two boys. The group has grown from 6 kids last year to 16 now, and we have 9 with us today.
We start the program at 11am all together around the breakfast tables. The kids proudly show off their artwork before packing up the paper and markers. We then divide into two groups: the 5 older kids (7yrs - 11yrs) and the 4 younger (3yrs - 6yrs). The older group is itching to begin and the kids are examining the labels of the products on the table. I ask them to take turns reading the recipe aloud. We take turns adding ingredients and stirring, and practicing social skills; everyone wants to be doing all the steps, and being fair takes negotiation and patience. The group is presented with math problems throughout the activity: How many quarter-cups do we need for 2 3/4 cups flour? How much dough should we use per cookie? (“That’s called ‘estimating’!” exclaims David*, who proudly elaborates this concept to the group.) How many cookies will each person get? By the time we pop the first batch in the oven, the kids have made over 50 little cookies, and I’m impressed with their ability to work and compromise with each other, with minimal guidance.
In the meantime, the young’ins have been working on creating (and eating) “Banana Snowpeople”. These healthy treats are made using bananas, raisins and strawberries. We count out the pieces of fruit and put them onto bamboo skewers. We chat about the nutrients we are getting from our snack, and the difference between the natural sugar in fruit and the refined sugar in our cookies. They show off their banana creations to the older kids, who enjoy making their own while their cookies bake. The Snowpeople are a smash hit with all the kids, even those who normally protest raisins!
The kids lament that there are no more bananas, and the young group moves downstairs. The older group makes a batch of icing together and divides it into individual bowls. We pull out the food colouring, and the kids decide what colours they’d like to make. We discuss the colour wheel and the kids experiment with getting their icing the “perfect” colour. We end up with vibrant plums and greens and reds - no mud colour in this bunch! We divide up all the cookies for decoration and the kids get excited about sharing their carefully crafted cookies with the kids downstairs, friends, and family members.
Downstairs, the younger group reads several stories together, including the classic Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The kids have time for a couple games, while some opt to go back to their morning activity pages. The older kids come down and present their cookies, each encouraging everyone else to try theirs. We ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’, and divide up cookies for the kids to take home. One of the older girls, Zoe*, thoughtfully packs up cookies that she made specifically for 3 year old Sarah and Sarah’s mother. The older kids make sure all the younger kids get the cookies they want, and are surprisingly unconcerned about their own cookie stash.
1pm comes too quickly, and we finish the session by all coming together for a closing circle. We each share our “raspberry and thorn” - something we loved, and something we didn’t, about today. The kids had a lot to say about what they liked, but not one had a thorn for the day; including Mike, who simply said, “My raspberry was the whole thing and my thorn is nothing.”
Mike’s mother comes to pick up her two boys, and she looks refreshed after spending the past couple hours knowing her boys were in good hands. This break allows mothers to get work done and take care of themselves, uninterrupted. Mike excitedly shows mom his cookies creations, and she’s happy to see what her son has accomplished today. We exchange hugs and goodbyes, and look forward to another great session next week!
*The names in this story have been changed for privacy.