I have been lucky enough over the course of this school year to work with the same seven 2nd grade classes every week and get to really know my students very personally and watch the way they learn, experience them building on knowledge and concepts that we’ve discussed throughout this year, and my favorite: watch them observe the world around them.

My favorite part of learning always has been and always will be drawing a logical conclusion from things I can observe, touch, and break down to its simplest. Throughout this year, I hope I’ve been able to encourage my students to really foster their curiosity and direct their own constant learning through this lens.

Dandilions

Recently, after looking at the field covered in dandelions that had gone to seed, I decided it would be a great time and opportunity to talk about seed dispersal. Before we went outside to take a close look at the puffy white heads of dandelions, I passed around a plastic bag of dandelion seeds I had collected and asked my students if they knew what kind of seeds were in the bag. “You left a clue in here!” one of my students observed, pointing at a seed that still had its cotton-like plume attached, “they’re dandelion seeds!” My students have become quite the natural science investigations, that’s for sure.

During another class period and in many lessons since then, we have talked about how every food we eat comes from dirt and my students are able to grasp that and often revisit it to help further their understanding of our food. They now know that there is (unfortunately) no such thing as a pickle plant, but that pickles are cucumbers and cucumbers grow in dirt. They learned that mustard comes from a seed and that beef comes from cows. With boxed food, though the distinction starts to get muddy.

pickle jar

There is a very high value to being able to make observations about the natural world, but there is just as high, if not a higher value to being able to make base line observations about the built environment and in the case of nutrition education, processed foods.

Once a month when I do a cooking project with my 2nd grade classes to correspond with my own take on the Harvest of the Month program, I need to find a recipe that the kids will like that will also fit our different restrictions. I need to figure out a recipe that doesn’t utilize an oven, will have enough tasks to give a role to twenty two eight year olds, can be completed in a half an hour, could be something that they could replicate at home (with an adult, of course), and a mound of other considerations. In the past we’ve done a roasted beet salad, asian style carrots, apple coleslaw, squash hummus, and other dishes that my students have otherwise likely not been exposed to.

wheat

But, this past month I was trying to come up with a recipe to highlight Montana grown whole grains that would warrant some nutritional merit. I was looking for a recipe that would stay within the confines of my limitations and get my students to try a new food or something of the sort. Stumped and uninspired, I eventually came full circle back to my theme of observations. Perhaps one of the biggest eye openers to eating healthy, whole foods is to break down the foods you take for granted- the foods that you assume just come from a box. So, it was settled. We used Wheat Montana flour and Montana eggs to make homemade whole wheat noodles. That week, I was going to teach 140 second graders that pasta doesn’t have to come from a box.

Olivia DeJohnThis post was written by Olivia DeJohn, FoodCorps member serving in the Ronan and Polson Public School Districts.
Olivia’s love for local food, sustainable agriculture, and the education surrounding it first started while attending Green Mountain College, an environmental liberal arts college in Vermont. There, she worked studying food systems, serving as the president of the campus Slow Food chapter, and being involved with food related projects all over campus and her college town. Following this, she farmed and worked as a gluten free pastry cook on the coast of Maine as an AmeriCorps State Member at an alternative high school in rural Vermont. There, she worked to teach kids about issues of food justice and working as one of the main farm hands on their acre farm plot. This year, Olivia is excited to serve in Ronan, MT where she hopes to garner real momentum behind breaking ground on gardens and getting kids in the dirt!