This is a little lesson I absolutely wanted to document. It took me, admittedly, a bit by surprise, but I think the most memorable learning experiences do...
In this short story by Vivian French, Oliver is a little boy who only likes French fries. On a visit to his grandparents' home, Oliver's grandfather invites him to find the potatoes in his vast vegetable garden so that they can make French fries together. Because he has no idea what potatoes look like in a garden, Oliver proceeds to dig up everything but the potatoes, and actually learns to like eating spinach, cabbage, carrots, beets, peas, and rhubarb as well.
Living with the lovely folks I do, who just happen to have a modest garden of their own, I couldn't resist returning to the story to connect the illustrations and content to real examples of vegetables commonly grown here in Vermont. So I made up some placards with photos of the vegetables in the ground, brought in what I could find out back, and recalled with my students all of the vegetables Oliver found, giving ample time to observe and comment on "the real stuff".
I was impressed how much my kids knew about root vegetables, such as carrots and beets, and the enthusiasm with which they declared one or the other vegetable at hand as "My favorite!". I was particularly curious what would result from a small-group taste test during that afternoon's rotation stations.
We tested four vegetables: beets (seen above), carrots, spinach, and cabbage. I had a cutting board with me at the table, where I cut bite-size pieces of each vegetables in front of the students after recalling some of the familiar characteristics of each. I also tried to add a little tid-bit about each they might find interesting, like the fact that if you eat too many carrots, the excess beta karotene in your body will turn your skin orange!
If the students liked what they tasted, they put a check mark next to the smiley face and comment "I liked it!". If they did not care for a vegetable, they put a check mark next to the frowny face and practiced saying "No, thank you." We talked informally about which was their favorite, the different ways we might prepare them, etc.
To my pleasant surprise, I had both extremes and everything in between. One student wanted me to write down all the vegetables we tried for his mother, so he could ask her to make them at home. Another very dutifully touched each vegetable to his tongue and put it right back on the table with a simple "No, thank you." Some experienced some pleasant surprises themselves, especially with the sweetness of the beets. Others were fairly confident in their knowledge of vegetables, including which ones they liked and disliked.
The following day, I returned once again to the topic of vegetables, and laid out a large plastic mat with a grid on it (a math material my cooperating teacher had purchased for the classroom). I laid out the four placards for the four vegetables we tasted at the top of each row and handed out our class name cards to the students. One by one, I invited them up to place their name card in the column beneath their favorite vegetable. There was great anticipation for the final results:
Spinach started out strong until ...
the beets caught up to it ...
I was not necessarily surprised at the outcome, but was delighted by the students' excitement over the whole thing.
Chart-making is actually an extremely valuable activity in Kindergarten, because it aids their comprehension of several different concepts. When we had finished I started with a standard question that I have learned from many teaching mentors and role models:
What do you notice?
If there was only one question teachers were allowed to ask, this one would get my vote! Children are full of observations and are even more full of the desire to share them. What emerge from their observations are comments that relate to the following:
"Seven kids liked carrots. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7."
"Four kids liked beets. I can tell: two on the top, two on the bottom."
"There are more kids that liked carrots than kids that liked any other vegetables."
"The same number of kids liked beets and spinach."
Reasoning with counting and spatial awareness:
"If we took three away from the carrots column, then it would have the same as the spinach and the beets."
My cooperating teacher chimed in with the concluding question to wrap it all up: "Why do you think we make charts like this? If I were to buy vegetables for the class, how would this chart help me?" ... thus driving home the relevance of such activities.
There is so much to do with a book like this, content matter like this, and supplemental activities such as the favorite vegetable chart. I think my favorite part of the whole sequence was that it all started with a story. Previously, I had explored storytelling as pedagogy in my graduate studies. I found strong parallels as I thought about story-based curriculum, such as this little sequence based on Oliver's Vegetables. It appears to appeal and work well at the Kindergarten level, but I don't know anyone who doesn't learn something from a story. The original purpose of telling stories was to pass on the knowledge required to survive as a human species and culture; today, they provide equally meaningful learning opportunities with extensions that only teachers may lay out for their particular students to explore.
P.S. Of course, at the end of the week, we celebrated at afternoon snack time with ... what else? ... home-sliced and classroom-sauteed: