Exploring Tomatoes

SEASHELL/SEAWEED PRE-K CLASSROOM

In our school and in the Reggio Emilia Philosophy, the natural world around us should be revered, studied, and celebrated. Gabby, our school's Food as a Language Atelierista, works with every classroom, from infants through upper grades. Investigating food allows for many wonderful discoveries and investigations: mathematical shapes and patterns present in foods, color theory, science of plants/foods, literacy, fine motor skills, social collaboration, and more.

The children in the Seashell/Seaweed room have seen tomatoes many times - but this investigation with Gabby allowed them to see a tomato through different eyes. Gabby helped guide the children as they made several discoveries and found various shapes and patterns within the sliced tomato. The children found the location where the seeds are most concentrated and showed this understanding in the drawings. Observational drawings help children to practice several skills: focus, concentration, math, dimensional analysis, analytical skills, fine motor skills, etc. The children are also simultaneously learning about the natural world around them through investigating and analyzing foods!    

The following developmental/academic skills were incorporated and/or naturally occurred as part of this child-led, play-based project: 

Language/Literacy: During the investigation, the children had to communicate their findings clearly to each other and to their teacher

Mathematics: The children practiced and used mathematical knowledge to make connections and interpretations about the segmented tomato. When creating their drawings, the used directional analysis to create an accurate drawing. They counted seeds, which reinforces one to one correspondence and number sequencing.    

Fine Motor Skills:  In order to create an accurate observational drawing, the children must exercise control and focus over their fine motor skills.  

Cognitive Thinking: The children make connections and discoveries about the segmented tomato and connect this information to previous knowledge to continue to build their understanding of the world around them.

Social/Sense of Self: Taking turns, helping each other make observations, engaging in discussion with peers and their teacher supports a strong sense of self.

Parental Support: Anytime a parent takes the time to do an activity with their child - especially an activity that is an extension of school work - the child receives the message that their work  and learning is important and valuable. Please extend this project at home by discussing these terms at home! Let your child help slice various fruits/veggies. Explore the similarities or differences. Even a few minutes will greatly aid in your child reinforcing important concepts all on their own. Have them explain to you what they notice and off them materials to demonstrate their knowledge – this could be markers and paper, play dough, finger painting or maybe they can guide you as you draw it! Feel free to take pictures of this process and to bring from home so they can share it with their class!

Learning Opportunites through Play

Day Sky and Night Sky

In our school it is essential that children spend a considerable part of the day learning through play. We believe playing is an absolute necessity that children have. In allowing and promoting play throughout the classroom, the children are far more engaged, relaxed, and happy - which allows the children to be themselves. When children are in their authentic state of self, they can truly learn and develop emotionally, cognitively, and socially. Additionally, when children are playing and being themselves, the adults around them can observe their level of knowledge and stage of their emotional, cognitive, and social development.

A recent child-led and play-based project emerged in the Day Sky and Night Sky Classrooms. The children in this room love to cook. They use real and pretend foods, play dough, sand, dirt, sticks, rocks, loose parts, and anything else their imagination can turn into a meal!

It is truly amazing to see a child being so resourceful and imaginative by transforming anything available to them to carry out their ideas. When a child has the space and freedom to think and create their own ideas, they will naturally develop skills that will serve throughout life, such as: focus, determination, willingness to learn, and self initiation. This is not only true of children, but all ages of people. When someone feels that own part of something, they willingly work harder to realize their vision because they feel a sense of owndership.

As the children cook (or engage in any form of play), it allows vast opportunities for the teachers to infuse academic work into their play. Social and emotional development happens naturally from open ended play. The teachers richen the experience by first asking questions:

"How do you make that type of food?"

"What are the ingredients?"

"Where does that food come from?"

They are endless questions that can led to the science of foods, different forms of cooking, raw vs cooked foods, cultural eating/cooking, geography, etc. One this day, as the teachers questioned the group, the answers helped the teachers realize that the children did not have a true understanding of the words "recipe" and "ingredient". This project could have taken a number of different paths but the teachers chose to explore the meaning of these 2 words.

The children were then promoted to write these words while discussing letter sounds. The teachers are also continually discussing what these words mean and are asking the children to create simple recipes they commonly pretend to make.

The following developmental/academic skills were incorporated and/or naturally occurred as part of this child-led, play-based project:

Literacy: Writing the words "recipe" and "ingredient" and many other words included in recipe lists that extended from this project

Mathematics/Fine Motor Skills: As the children "cook", they often have to count how many plates/bowls are available and then make the correct amount of "food" to fill them. This reinforces one to one correspondence, addition, and number sequencing.

Collaboration/Language: The children had to communicate with each other what they were cooking, make decisions on who was cook which items, and decide on recipes.

Cognitive Thinking: The children used loose parts to create their "foods" and build knowledge to understand the differences and similarities between foods that are ingredients vs recipes. The children also had to create recipes.

Social/Sense of Self: Taking turns, helping each other, working on a collaborative project with their peers.

Parental Support: Anytime a parent takes the time to do an activity with their child - especially an activity that is an extension of school work - the child receives the message that their work  and learning is important and valuable. Please extend this project at home by discussing these terms at home! Let your child help you make a fruit salad (or any simple meal) by helping to create a recipe by selecting all the ingredients. You could also discuss a meal you plan to make and have your child help you make the recipe list for the grocery store. Feel free to take pictures of this process and to bring from home so they can share it with their class!

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.

Making cupcakes in play dough (Sensory)

Recently, the children in House Room have been spending time “baking” cupcakes in the playdough area. To spur on the children’s interest and support their exploration, we decided to ask them what other materials might be needed to continue making the cupcakes.

The children listed some various items they felt they needed to continue in their baking endeavor. The list included:

  • Baking tins
  • Utensils
  • Spatulas/whisks
  • Mixing bowls
  • Sprinkles
  • Cupcake liners

Later that day we introduced all of the new materials that the children requested, along with some flour to enhance the experience. Immediately, the children got back to work creating their cupcakes. With access to the new tools, many of the children began to create their own versions of cupcake recipes. They also began to help their friends with create their own recipes and obtain ingredients.

Dramatic play experiences like this one are important in childhood social, emotional, cognitive and creative development. The children showcased their imagination by role-playing as bakers. They merged make-believe and reality by using both real kitchen materials and representative materials like playdough as props for their baking. Inventing new “recipes” put their creativity on display, but also showed their understanding of the need for processes in real life.

The creative and imaginative aspects of dramatic play are important because they reveal a child’s understanding of real life activities, ability to make connections between real life and make-believe and challenge the children to be resourceful when filling in the gaps between reality and pretend. The inventive aspect also instills a sense of independence and confidence in one’s ability to put their personal thoughts and ideas on display.

This activity also increased the children’s group work and communication skills and allowed them to foster positive relationships with their peers. They worked as a team to form the list of needed materials, practiced sharing resources and ideas, helped one another complete tasks, showed support by learning about other’s recipes and built upon leadership skills through the teaching their own recipes.

Dramatic play is a valuable aspect of our curriculum because it encourages children to explore a variety of creative ideas, build upon cognitive processes and skills and use knowledge from past experiences to further understanding of real world concepts.

Playing with our Colored Salt Shaker

A few weeks ago the children created paintings using ice-cream salt and watercolors. We collected the extra salt from their paintings, dried it and put it inside our clear fascinator boxes to create a new exploration. Once the children got their hands on the boxes, they immediately picked up on the percussive possibilities.

The children all shook the boxes around joyfully and banged them on the table. One child especially enjoyed shaking the box up and down with both hands while “singing” loudly. He shows exceptional interest in music and is always making a rhythm, dancing or being musical in class.

This experience primarily engaged the students’ sense of hearing. The children get in touch with their musical side, gathering an understanding of rhythm and volume. They learned about cause and effect, discovering that the harder and faster they shook their box, the louder and quicker the sound. This drew a connection between physical force, speed and the creation of rhythm.

You will notice in the videos that the children respond and react differently to the sounds of their peers shaking their boxes. Two of the children spent some time trading off, with on child shaking his box first, and another responding by shaking her box. The idea that communication can exist through music is shown through these interactions.

Ultimately, music and rhythm are important forms of emotional expression. The physical technique and force used when shaking the boxes can serve as an emotional and creative outlet. Shaking the boxes more rapidly and forcefully can exert more extreme emotions like excitement, joy or anger; where as shaking the boxes softly might provide a more soothing experience.

Playing with rhythm and sound is not only a fun experience, but also a great way to connect with oneself, interact with others and express emotion and creativity.

Cauliflower Soup

Over the course of this week, the students in Wonderland Class learned a great deal about an important part of the human body by studying about bones. As a part of the study, the students were asked what they might need to keep their bones strong. Some of their answers were:

  • “Exercise and lifting stuff!” (The student was referring to working out to keep our bones strong.)
  • “Drink milk. It has protein!” (The student was telling us about protein and where it can be found.)
  • “Our bones break without good stuff for them.” (The student was telling us what happens when our bones do not get what they need.)

Student feedback has a great deal of influence on our classroom projects. Because we believe learning should be student led, we use questions and statements from students to determine the direction of projects. These statements influence the project work because it helps the teachers analyze how much the children know, in which direction their minds are going or what areas they need practice or improvement in.

After this conversation, the children were introduced to the mineral calcium and learned about its role in the human body. After doing some research, we decided to make calcium rich recipe- Cauliflower Soup. During the process of creating this recipe, the children were also introduced to a new vegetable that many of them hadn’t been familiar with - a leek.

After discussing our ingredients and their smells, textures and physical characteristics, the children began measuring and adding fractions with our measuring cups. Once we had all of the ingredients mixed, we took our pot to the kitchen where they let it simmer until snack time.

Throughout this experience the children got to practice their research and mathematical skills, both of which are foundational aspects of learning. They also learned about the process of cooking, and how to do so in a healthy way, which instills a sense of accomplishment and independence. Understanding the roles of vitamins and minerals and how to cook healthily are all important in maintaining a healthy body.

The cauliflower soup was a recipe that the children really enjoyed! It was a delicious treat for our taste buds, healthy for our bodies and an exciting intellectual endeavor. While consuming it was an enjoyable experience, being able to discuss its benefits as we ate together also served as a fun, communal learning experience.

Painting with Oranges

We regularly incorporate painting into our weekly activities, allowing the children to interact with different paint colors, types, techniques and utensils to express themselves and make beautiful pictures. This week we got creative with our painting utensil and used oranges to make art.

To begin this exploration, we sliced the oranges into halves and gave the children red, yellow and orange paint. The children then dipped the oranges into the paint and “stamped” it onto the paper creating circles. Some of the children began to scoop the inside of the orange out and use the inside to paint with, while others squeezed the juice onto the paper to use as type of paint.

Painting plays an important role in our curriculum because it allows children to express themselves freely, exploring new concepts and documenting personal thoughts and ideas on paper. In this exploration, each child was able to freely determine what technique they wanted to adopt in this orange painting experience, allowing them to explore at their own pace and satisfy their personal curiosities. This builds self-confidence and a positive connotation towards being adventurous and trying new things.

Incorporating an uncommon tool (like an orange) into a common activity is valuable because it challenges the children to jump out of their comfort zone, reevaluate their perceptions of the world around them and practice problem solving. In this activity, the children were able to take an item that they usually associate with snack time and learn to use it as a tool. Working with the oranges to create the desired images, textures and colors encouraged the children to think outside the box and learn through trial and error.

Along with strengthening cognitive skills, this hands-on exploration also built upon fine motor skills. Actions involved in squeezing the juice, cleaning out the inside of the fruit, applying various levels of pressure while “stamping” and reaching to different points of the paper all strengthened the muscles in the children’s fingers, hands and arms.

Interacting with ordinary objects in unordinary ways shows children that things are not always what they seem. When imagination and creativity are applied, children are more engaged. With this spark of interest comes more attention to detail, allowing the children to notice characteristics of the item that they might not pick up on otherwise when their primary focus is getting the fruit from their plate to their stomach.

Play-Dough (Food as a Language and Writing)

The children in House Room have picked up a new daily routine of baking cupcakes at the play dough table. Again, this is happening EVERY DAY! They get extremely excited about doing it everyday, and we are following their lead by incorporating provocations in this activity to strengthen math, literacy and other academic lessons.

While making their cupcakes, we have observed the children talking about “the recipe” and “the ingredients” involved. We encouraged the children to write down the ingredients and recipe on a large sheet of paper. This activity encouraged the children to practice letter recognition, enhance their vocabulary and build fine motor skills through writing. It also gave them an opportunity to work together as a group, encouraging social skills like teamwork, group decision-making and interpersonal communication.

The children have also been building upon their mathematical vocabulary and skillsets. They practice measurement when adding specific amounts of ingredients, making comments like “we need a little bit more.” Addition is also involved as the students determine the amount of treats they made, saying things like “I counted eight cupcakes.”

This experience also exposed the children to a variety of baking and kitchen related tools such as muffin tins, cupcake liners, plastic scoops and straws etc. Using these tools builds upon fine motor skills, and learning how to use them on their own instills a sense of independence.

While the children are not actually making “real” cupcakes, this form of symbolic play is meaningful because it familiarizes the students with the baking process. Practicing the science, math and general process related to baking instills a level of comfort and understanding in the students that will be useful in the future when their play cupcakes become real cupcakes.

Nutrition: Baking cupcakes (Food as a Language)

Lately, the children have taken great joy in making their own cupcakes in the play dough area. To further explore this interest, we decided to allow the children to bake real cupcakes for their Food as Language exploration. As a class we discussed all of the ingredients we would need to bake cupcakes. The children’s involvement in baking their play dough cupcakes prepared them for this moment and they knew exactly what was needed!

After gathering all of the necessary ingredients and utensils, we began exciting process of making our treats. Everyone in the classroom had the opportunity to help make our cupcakes. We all worked together to measure the wet and dry ingredients, stir the batter, place the cupcake liners in the pan, grease the pan and filled every liner with batter.

While the process required a great deal of teamwork, the children also learned the importance of taking turns. Each child had their own job to do, whether it was placing liners in the pan or pouring the batter. Having individual responsibilities within the group gave each child a feeling of importance and showed them that each member of a team is valuable.

Cooking is also always a great math lesson. Measuring the right ingredients, counting out the amount of cupcake liners needed and having an idea of how much time the treats take to bake all build upon counting skills and an understanding of measurements and time.

One other interesting concept to point out is the role of dramatic play in this experience. As noted above, the children had been making their own pretend cupcakes prior to making them for their Food as Language. When it came time to bake the real cupcakes, the children were prepared to do so. When they were working with play dough, they still discussed the ingredients that their cupcakes might require. They still practiced working together to create them, and determined who would fulfill what roles.

The children’s time of dramatic play (pretend, make-believe, role play etc.) equipped them with many of the skills necessary to complete the task in real life. This is one reason why dramatic play is extremely valuable and encouraged. Not only is it a momentary expression of creativity and imagination, but it also gives children good practice for real life experiences.

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. 

Creating Rainbows out of Fruit

For our food exploration this week, we asked for fruits that contained colors of the rainbow. Then, the children were encouraged to create a rainbow using the foods they had. The children created rainbow masterpieces using blueberries, strawberries and oranges. 

 

Throughout this exploration we observed the children and noticed that they were particularly focused on the amount of fruit that they had in each color. This interest evolved into a wonderful math experience. The children also discussed the unique colors of each fruit and how they planned on arranging their fruit rainbow.

Below is an example of a conversation between two children:

·       “I have six blueberries.” (The children counted each fruit they had and categorized them, showing mathematical understanding.)

·       “We don’t have any green.” (This shows how the child was aware of which colors are in the rainbow, and that they were able to determine which colors they would need to obtain in order to create a full rainbow.)

·       “Yes we do, the leaves from the strawberries are green.” (This is an example of how the children implemented problem-solving and communication skills, along with creative thinking.)

We like to incorporate natural materials that encourage play and exploration into our learning activities. The fruit used in this experience was of different shape and color, grabbing the children’s attention. They learned that with a little bit of creativity, fruit is not only a delicious snack but also a tool to construct and express their interpretation of the world around them. Handling and counting the fruit allowed the children to practice mathematical concepts while making scientific observations regarding the fruit’s color, texture, smell, weight, and more. These are important concepts for honing decision-making and keen observational skills.

The project also encouraged the children to explore ways in which seemingly unrelated items can actually represent or relate to one another. At first glance, pieces of fruit and a rainbow are totally different. However, with some imagination and the ability to pretend, the children were able to create their own unique interpretations of a rainbow. This experience was important because it allowed the children to better understand association between different ideas and explore relationships between perception, representation and reality. Being able to spot connections between different ideas or items is extremely valuable because it encourages children to ask questions and improves their problem-solving skills.