Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sharing Meals, Sharing Stories, Sharing Ownership

At Tumbleweed, we all eat meals together - children and teachers. We discuss the food we’re eating: where it comes from, what it looks, tastes, and feels like, how it was prepared, how it makes us feel. We share stories about our families, funny things that we’ve experienced, or interesting facts we've learned. Sometimes we listen to soft music or a story on tape. Mealtime at Tumbleweed is a time of sharing nourishment, sharing stories, and sharing some special time together at the table.  It’s a time to slow down from the craziness of the day and do something completely in unison...after all, one thing about people is that we all have to eat!

Often, we also include the children in preparing snacks or lunch items. If you follow our Instagram, you've likely seen photo sets of children making popsicles, granola, and pizza. We do these projects during our “small group” time so that each child involved is sure to have chances to participate in hands-on ways. Preparing food for ourselves and others to enjoy is a source of pride; it feels so good to start with a bunch of separate ingredients and end up with something recognizable and delicious. And we always feel proud to say, “I made that!” while our friends are eating and enjoying their meals.

Preparing meals puts to use so many of the skills that preschoolers naturally crave to use and practice. When I lead “cooking” small groups, I try to include some sort of simple kitchen skills and give each child a chance to practice these skills individually, while we all observe and narrate the action. We’ll each be responsible for cutting up our bananas or strawberries, for example, for the popsicles being made on our own trays. Or spreading the sauce on our English muffins for pizza, or scooping a certain amount of spice or oats or honey for our granola. These are the sorts of skills the children love to practice in their daily play as well, so they come quite naturally.  This practice is how we develop hand-eye coordination and motor skills, and when presented in conjunction with preparing food, it also helps the children to visualize the processes involved in harvesting, preparing, or cooking the food they eat every day.

The first thing we do before we prepare food for our friends is to wash our hands very well, being sure to use lots of soap.  Giving reminders to do this each and every time we prepare food together also presents an opportunity to discuss bacteria, germs, the spreading of illnesses, and how careful handwashing can help protect ourselves and each other.  

Next, we each sit down at a tray prepared with particular ingredients and/or tools.  When making popsicles, each tray is set up with paper cups and popsicle sticks; when making granola, each tray holds one or two different ingredients.  Sometimes these are pre-measured, while other times they are simply laid out in their packaging and accompanied by measuring tools.  

Finally, we get to the exciting part: the making!  We discuss how important it is not to eat any of the food until after we’re completely finished making it, so that our germs do not get into the shared foods.  Then I give step-by-step instructions.  If making popsicles, I will hand out a few butter knives and guide children in cutting up their bananas or strawberries, allowing them to choose how large or small to cut them.  The pieces of fruit then go in the bottoms of the cups, which gives children a chance to practice portioning and to envision the finished product along the way. After we portion out each ingredient and pop our pizzas or granola in the oven or our popsicles in the freezer, working together to very carefully carry them over to the kitchen on tray, we get to munch on the ingredients that spilled onto the tablecloth or polish off any leftover bits! This eating part makes all the work worthwhile!

It is amazing to see the joy in cooking beginning so young.  Preparing meals together and then eating them together creates a conversation through activity - instead of passive consumers, the children are directly involved in the care and health of themselves and their bodies.  The sense of ownership they feel over what and how they choose to consume and the background knowledge of where their food comes from is setting the stage for a healthy, positive relationship with food down the road, which we all know is such an important thing to foster in the lives of our kiddos!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Baking Together

Baking is something I enjoy doing at home, and is something I also really like to bring into the classroom with me. Typically, there are three things to baking with toddlers: 
* Creating a fun experience! This is an opportunity to show the children something that I enjoy and allowing them to create their own ideas. 
* Preparation and Set up.  This is a great time for children to enter into the process of following a logical sequence of events to get to a predictable result.  It offers many opportunities for order (the gathering and arrangement of ingredients), language (verbal and written), and logical sequencing (following the recipe directions). 
* Inquiry Process.  Even set activities like this can allow for time for the children to wonder and engage in the process of inquiry.  Why do we use these ingredients?  What if I stir one way and someone else does another?  What could we add in next time to change the outcome?

As a child baking was a rare and exciting time that I could help my mom in the kitchen and make something sweet that I could then anticipate eating. While I was interested in scooping of ingredients and adding them to the bowl as a child, I noticed when we baked together the children were curious about how the vanilla smelled, what salt and sugar taste like and giggling about some eggshell sneaking into the mix. What is this? What’s that? Can I smell it? Yeah, me too! What does it taste like? So many questions about all of our ingredients. Identifying all of what makes a muffin and getting a chance to smell, taste or even just look closely at something that they haven’t had much experience with was great. Through mixing ingredients and talking about their roles in the recipe, smelling and sampling things when possible we are teaching them about food and how it’s made. This experience began as something I enjoyed and blossomed into a way to connect with each other and with food.

The first step to a successful baking project is being prepared. Making sure you have a recipe selected ahead of time and that you have all the ingredients before mentioning the idea to the group. Once you have collected all the ingredients we place everything together on the table for all to see. We pause for a moment before starting so that everyone can look over the table, answer questions and say what we are going to make one last time. As we open bags and cartons and twist off caps we talk about the names of each ingredient and even perhaps what part it plays in the recipe. Like with most things we follow their lead, taste, smell, and inspect what the littles are interested in- whether it be from the table and bag or as the item is added to the bowl.

Another important part of baking with children is having an allotted amount of time to give children for their own pace.We were curious about the process and it felt good to explore this process sensorally, they smelt and tasted what we could during the time given.  We all had a turn to mix both the wet and dry ingredients.  It was even exciting to pass to our friends!

With colder weather approaching I hope it incorporate more baking into our days. I wonder what our next recipe might be!