Fruit and vegetables are the stars of this creative learning experience
Lollipops Glen Eden Early Learning centre has recently renewed their Heart Foundation Pā-harakeke (Gold) Healthy Heart Award. Part of the award requirement is to engage children in regular curriculum-linked healthy eating experiences. Educator Melissa Williamson shares the fun and learning of taking the children along on weekly excursions to the local fruit and vege shop.
Why did you decide to introduce a weekly fruit and vegetable learning experience?
I wanted to come up with a healthy eating activity that we could establish, not just as a one-off experience, but something that could be incorporated into our programme.
How did you come up with this creative idea, and who was involved in the planning?
I remember years ago watching one of Jamie Oliver’s ‘Food Revolution’ episodes. There was one particular scene that has always stuck with me. Jamie had gone into a classroom with some fresh vegetables and asked the class if they knew the names of each one. I remember being so shocked at how little the children knew about the fresh produce.
In a time where processed foods are more the norm than ever before and with busy working families it is not surprising that our children might not have the same knowledge and cooking experience that they once might have. This is something we want to change. We want our tamariki to have first-hand experience in using fresh produce and cooking it in various ways. We want them to be excited about food and to share that excitement with their families.
I began to brainstorm with my colleagues how we could integrate child’s ownership of learning, whānau and community engagement, physical activity and staff collaboration into one. We are very lucky here in Glen Eden to be so close to local shops and parks, so the idea to involve the local fruit and vegetable shop into our experience was easy to do.
How did your fruit and vege learning experience help meet the Pā-harakeke Healthy Heart Award criteria?
The idea of cooking with the children wasn’t enough so our idea evolved into a weekly walk to the local vege shop where the children (child’s voice) would choose a fruit or vegetable to bring back to the centre. Each week, we mixed up the prompts we gave the children like, “Can you find something green?” or “Can you choose something you don’t know the name of?” In one instance, I encouraged one of our children to choose something he didn’t like and asked if he would be willing to try to make it yum! He agreed and chose avocado. Through his own perseverance and the encouragement of his peers, he not only tried but loved the guacamole we made. His parents could hardly believe it.
Once a fruit or vegetable was chosen, children would enthusiastically offer up their own knowledge of the produce. We would then decide how to eat it; either raw or cooked plainly so that the children could taste all its natural flavours. Cherry tomatoes, pomegranate, parsnip and grapes were all quite easy to eat raw, but others like kamo kamo, pumpkin, garlic and corn we decided to cook first.
We posted our experience on Storypark asked parents for recipe suggestions that included our chosen vegetable. Their input was fantastic and everyone waited in anticipation for Thursday’s big cook up. We made so many different meals and tasted some delicious food!! Beef stroganoff, pomegranate salsa, broccoli dip, grape sorbet, chicken and leek pie, Mexican style coleslaw… the list goes on.
Afterwards, the final recipe was posted on Storypark so parents could make the dishes at home too. I have also documented each experience onto photo boards which are displayed in our classroom for our tamariki to revisit and look over.
Our children have been so enthusiastic about the initiative and incredibly adventurous with their eating. We found that they were more inclined to LOVE the food when we served it up as a role play experience too. We set up little food stalls and some of the children would walk through the playground offering up parsnip chips and other finger foods, to anyone who was interested.
By making this experience completely optional and fun, it meant that the children were far more willing to be involved. When new produce was only served up alongside meal times, we found that the children were less likely to try new things.
How do you believe this activity supports the curriculum?
This initiative gives children the place to practice agency in their own lives. By involving parents throughout the weekly journey they become more involved in their child’s experiences, making them more meaningful. This initiative was also a direct way for our tamariki to develop the dispositions and working theories associated with Te Whāriki: courage and curiosity (taking an interest), trust and playfulness (being involved), perseverance (persisting with difficulty, challenge and uncertainty), confidence (expressing a point of view or feelings) and responsibility (taking responsibility).
What have some of the outcomes been for children?
- Developing positive dispositions around new foods and tastes.
- The ability to learn about, and explore, nutritious food in an interactive and relevant way.
- The opportunity to voice their own experiences and knowledge in an inclusive and supportive environment.
- The opportunity to make connections between people, places and things in their world.
- The ability to develop new skills and test out their current skillset in a safe and encouraging environment.
What has been the response from parents?
We have had some amazing feedback and have heard so many stories of vege talks around the dinner table and of children requesting specific vegetables for dinner! I had a really valuable chat with one of our parents about leeks. After one of our leek stories, she told me she had never heard of leeks before and asked what she could do with them. I explained all about leeks and their wonderful subtle taste (I adore leeks) and helped her out with a few easy meal ideas that she could introduce at home.
Were there any challenges and if yes, how did you overcome these?
The only challenge with this initiative has been keeping up with the documentation. I was initially trying to document while still on the floor engaging with the children. It all became quite hard as I like to be completely present when I’m with the children and that left me quite distracted.
We thought about pushing the experience out to fortnightly too, but it took away the excitement a little and left the children unsure of which days it was happening. Weekly was definitely best for us but dedication and commitment was crucial to its success and continuation.
By sharing the load with the team and making it a room responsibility and initiative rather than resting it on one person’s shoulders we were able to relieve the pressure I was beginning to feel. Teamwork is key. I cannot express enough how successful and enjoyable this experience has been for us! It is definitely worth a go if you can do it.