Nestled under the bright red barn roof sits a garden full of carrots, onions, and peppers. Next to the plot, a chicken coop stands, holding freshly laid eggs, and a beehive buzzes close by. Just across the way, there’s a farmers market stocked with fruit and vegetables and even bouquets of flowers for sale. The space is abuzz with excited energy as farmers and shoppers mingle and discuss what’s for dinner.
Granted, the vegetables are plastic and the farm is make-believe, but that doesn’t make it any less real to Ellis kindergarten students.
For their Farm to Table unit, kindergarten students transformed their classroom into a farm to supplement their learning about where their food comes from. Students uncovered how different foods grow, how food makes its way to their lunch boxes, and why it’s important to make healthy food choices. Meant to open girls' minds (and potentially their palates) to the wide variety of food available and enjoyed across the world, students also discuss how geography, climate, and family traditions influence what people eat.
The project-based, hands-on learning took form through a wide variety of activities and experiences in the kindergarten classroom. After learning that certain foods can’t be grown in their hometown (like avocados and kiwis), girls looked at world maps to compare the distances between places certain foods are grown and their homes in Pittsburgh. To reinforce the idea, teachers invited students’ families into class to share their own food traditions from around the world. In the process, girls learned about Romanian, Nigerian, and German food traditions—and even learned how to make authentic German potato pancakes. A representative from the East End Food Co-Op also visited the kindergarten class to teach the girls about sustainable food practices, composting, and the importance of using recyclable materials.
“Helping the girls understand where their food comes from gives them the power to be informed consumers who can make educated choices,” shared Kim Mechling, Lower School Science Teacher. “If they know how ingredients are combined to make new foods and how far it travels to get to their plates, they are able to decide if it is better for themselves and the planet to buy food that comes from local sources rather than foods that travel a great distance. These opportunities for using critical thinking in a global way lays the groundwork for our girls to become environmentally conscious adults.”
To end the immersive unit, girls learn the ins and outs of what it means to have a well-balanced diet and how food fuels their growing bodies. Because kindergarten is the first year at Ellis where girls go to the cafeteria and have the option to choose what they eat for lunch, the lessons cover the nutrients in different foods and how they help young bodies function and grow. Carol Krescanko, Kindergarten Teacher, emphasizes the importance of making healthy choices in the lunchroom and how it can boost their brain power for the rest of the day.
“We encourage the girls to make good choices when they buy their lunch and this unit helps them make those decisions,” shared Ms. Krescanko. “The more knowledge they have about food and where it comes from, the better.”