Sugar Beet Popscicles

As a continuance of our classroom exploration of beets, the students recently engaged in a time of sensory play involving sugar beet juice popsicles. Sensory play is comprised of any activity that excites a child’s senses, encouraging them to engage in developmental processes as they play, satisfy their curiosities and express their imaginations.

In a PBS article, Danielle Steinberg explains the value of sensory play in childhood learning:  “Children (and adults) learn best and retain the most information when they engage their senses… By giving children the opportunity to investigate materials with no preconceived knowledge, you’re helping them develop and refine their cognitive, social and emotional, physical, creative and linguistic skillsets.”

Freezing the sugar beet juice into popsicles using ice cube trays allowed the children to gain a new perspective of the veggie while building upon many of the skillsets mentioned above. As the students interacted with their frozen treat, we posed several questions regarding its physical characteristics:

  • How does it feel (hot or cold)?
  • What color is it? 
  • Is it hard or soft?
  • What is happening to the popsicle when you play with it? Why is it changing shape?

Asking questions challenges children to solidify their thoughts and ideas. Discussing topics and hearing other’s explanations expands existing knowledge and ideas. These conversations are also important because they increase children’s communicative skills, as they practice adequately articulating their personal thoughts.

As the children used their senses to make observations, they were able to build upon their understanding of cause and effect, temperature and texture. The dark, rich coloring of the juice kept the children’s visual senses engaged, encouraging them to study it further. Using their sense of touch they noted the stark difference between the hard, cold popsicle and the warmer, squishier beet the children had previously encountered.

Another primary lesson the children took away from this exploration was the process of physical state change. Using their senses of sight and touch to observe the frozen cube melting into a warm, sticky juice allowed the students to better grasp this considerably challenging scientific concept.

We will continue to study the beets via different methods and in different environments. The more we explore and observe the food, the deeper an understanding we have about its characteristics.

Mango Exploration

We recently introduced a new and exciting fruit to the classroom- Mango! The yellow fruit has sparked a great deal of interest in the students, launching many a conversation and opportunity for exploration.

After conducting investigations of the inside and outside of the mangos, the students began a yellow color exploration. Throughout the week, the children compared and matched other yellow objects that could be found in the room. A few of these materials were Legos, flowers, play dough and paint.

Conducting comparisons between objects is important because it encourages close attention to detail and engages problem-solving skills. Making simple comparisons between physical properties lays a solid foundation for discovering commonalities between more complex concepts in the future.

Students used the yellow paint to mimic the inside of the fruit. They used the paint in both the classroom and at the light table, allowing them to examine how different lighting impacts a color’s appearance. The play dough was useful for constructing models of the other yellow objects the children observed. Even the play dough containers were used!

Creating models of the items that the children compared required problem solving along with a great deal of imagination and creativity. Creating their own interpretations allowed them to exercise self-expression. Using their hands to shape play dough, control a paintbrush or work with small Lego pieces builds the children’s hand muscles, which enhances fine motor skills needed for future tasks like writing.

While working with play dough or paint may just seem like fun play to children, they are actually engaging in an important aspect of cognitive and behavioral development. Children use modeling as a way to learn about the world around them. Creating a flower out of play dough requires the child to carefully study the flower. As a result, they learn a great deal about its shape, color, texture etc. Modeling also increases an understanding of symbolism and the ability to make connections between two objects while remaining aware of their separate identities. 

The students also explored mangos with Ms. Gabby during a Think Tank session and as their Food as Language. These encounters allowed the children to use multiple senses while making their observations. They tasted the mango, took in its bright color and felt the textural differences of its various parts. This experience fostered relationship-building opportunities and a sense of community as the children communicated with one another regarding the fruit and worked together to squish it between their fingers.  

They had fun exploring the different parts of the mango: outside, inside and seeds.

Carrots and Broccoli

Gabby, our nutritionist, visits our class every week for our Think Tank session, which supports our curriculum with food. Healthy food like fruits and vegetables play an important role in our classroom because they teach us about the natural world, are interesting to learn about and come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. Not to mention they make a tasty snack.

During a recent Think Tank session we got to explore two interesting vegetables- carrots and broccoli. The children got to put all of their senses to use while investigating the vegetables. Some thoughts and questions that we came across about while exploring the food were:

  • How does it feel?
  • How many do we have?
  • How does it smell?
  • Different shapes and colors

The children made observations using their senses to compare and contrast the two vegetables. This process encourages valuable researching skills such as attention to detail and careful observation. The children enjoyed feeling the different textures of each vegetable and discussing how different they look. One of our favorite things to do was discuss color and smell!

Having a group discussion in which children can share their opinions and observations is important because it allows children to express their thoughts in an encouraging, supportive environment, gives them an opportunity to learn about their peers’ opinions and teaches them to respectfully agree or disagree. All of this is meaningful in building a child’s communication skills, personal relationships and self-confidence.

Along with increasing communication, observational and social skills, this experience also doubled as a math lesson. The children counted the different vegetables. They noted the different shapes and sizes of the vegetables, enhancing shape identification and measurement skills. Also, playing with new or different foods and learning about them in fun, interesting ways increases a child’s chances of enjoying the food more. The more acquainted they are to the food, the more likely they are to feel comfortable snacking on it later. 

A food encounter like this one is important because it allows children to freely explore and become acquainted with a food at their own pace, in their own way. You will notice in several of the photos that some of the children spent time smelling the food by pushing it onto their noses. There were also some children who chose to see if they could combine the two veggies, pushing the carrot into the top of the broccoli. The encounter is based upon each child’s personal interests. We encourage this because we believe that a child’s personal interests drive some of their best personal learning experiences.