Authentic Learning in the Kitchen
So as a stay-at-home mom, gardener, and educator, I’m always looking for ways to make gardening an enriching and educational experience for my kids. Lately I’ve found myself in this struggle between finding enriching activities for my three-year-old, and having the time to cook a good meal/do garden clean up/prepare the garden harvest for preservation. I’ve been wavering between feeling guilty for not giving my child my full attention, and feeling guilty for not making the most of every plant that took up space in my garden this season. But yesterday I relearned a lesson that I’ve learned many times before: the value of integration. I had a huge bucket full of kale that I needed to get in the freezer. I had a three-year-old that needed some attention. I combined the two with great success!
Together we cleaned out the sink. Sylva got to splash around in the cold water and make bubbles so she was happy. We then filled the clean sink with cold water, and began piling in batches of fluffy, dark green kale pieces.
Sylva happily swished the kale around in the sink and transferred the clean kale to the strainer as I kept pouring in more Kale.
As she swished and drained, we kept our eyes open for the tiniest kale leaves, which Sylva named her “cutie pies.” We thought of words to describe the two types of kale: Dino, “the bumpy kind” and Red Russian “the feathery kind.” As we worked we snacked on the kale, which I explained was some of the best kind of “growing food” you could eat.
I asked her what she thought we should make with the kale this winter. We talked about making soups and lasagna.
After the kale was cleaned, we got the steamer going and I explained how we would put the fluffy kale into the hot steamer for two minutes and it would flatten out and shrink up. I dumped the steamed kale into the cold water in the sink where Sylva stirred it around in order to cool it off. As the kale that filled up our five-gallon bucket was steamed, Sylva was amazed to discover that it all fit in a large mixing bowl. In total we ended up with 9 bags of about one cup of frozen Kale. But more importantly, Sylva got to: feel useful helping Mom with an important job, engage her senses, eat really nutritious kale, and become more familiar with a vegetable that is very well-adapted to our region, and becoming a staple in the development of a regional food system.
This experience reinforced to me that the ideal learning environment is one which engages the senses, integrates multiple disciplines, and has a purpose beyond just “learning”– a purpose that impacts the world outside of the classroom (like producing food). As a parent, this is freeing to remember because it means that I can have experiences with my kids that are enriching to them, and at the same time enable me to check one more job off of my “to do” list. It also reminded me that kids don’t need a constant inflow of the most up-to-date and developmentally-appropriate toys and educational gadgets in order to grow up and succeed. Mostly, they need adults to engage with them. The garden makes a wonderful environment to engage kids in learning!