Classrooms across Australia are learning valuable life skills while experiencing the extraordinary sights, smells and tastes of freshly grown produce.
It’s all part of the hands-on Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program, which introduces students to the joys of growing and cooking their own food.
Year 1 and 2 students at Melbourne’s Montmorency Primary School recently joined in the fun. The Melbourne school has been running the hands-on program with its Year 3 to 6 students since 2009, but this year decided to expand its scope.
While Year 3 to 6 students are involved in regular kitchen classes all year, the school is running the cooking sessions with Year 1 and 2 students with a twist.
Acting Principal Janene Worsam says each Year 1 and 2 class had weekly kitchen sessions for one term, before rotating to another class. Janene says as the younger students were still developing their kitchen skills and needed more supervision than the older students, the classes were organised so that just a small group of students cooked each week.
To help make the week’s recipe, the lesson plan is structured with teachers choosing a group of students to participate, as the other students in the class become the audience for the session. The audience is encouraged to ask questions, and ingredients are passed around for them to touch and smell.
Janene says feedback has been overwhelmingly positive with students immersing themselves in the taste and aroma of their experience. In one of the early cooking sessions, students helped prepare dough for a potato and rosemary pizza. One of the students in the kitchen class audience asked the student helping to prepare the dough “how does the pizza dough feel?”, to which the student making the dough replied “comfy”.
Other dishes prepared in kitchen classes with the Year 1 and 2 students have included seasonal muffins, cheese and herb scones, green hummus, greens and feta triangles, sushi, bruschetta, and tomato and herb focaccia. When making the tomato and herb focaccia, the students passed around the herbs so they could smell the different varieties and learn their names.
A class of Year 2 students also recently took part in a special cooking session with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation team. The students were some of the first to try out activities from the Foundation’s new Kitchen Garden Syllabus for Primary (Years F–2). The Year 2s excitedly prepared guacamole, sweet potato dip, damper and a leafy salad, then sat as a group and shared the meal.
Janene says the students have shown so much enthusiasm and passion for cooking that a number of Year 1 and 2 students have participated in a popular lunchtime gardening club, held once a week.
When the Kitchen Garden Foundation team visited the school, a group of Year 2 students went out to the school garden and completed a Garden Word Cards activity from the new F–2 Syllabus book – which allows them to work on their vocabulary. The hand-on activity involves students making labels for the plants in the veggie garden using both an adjective and a noun. Their creative combinations included “lovely lemons” and “eggcellent eggplants”.
The students class teacher, who helped run the activity, says it links nicely with their classroom learning about adjectives and nouns. Janene says seamlessly integrating kitchen garden activities with other subjects in the curriculum allows students to learn multiple skills at the same time.
“Schools are all so time poor and curriculum heavy that it’s about being clever in terms of covering curriculum areas while cooking and gardening,” she says.
“We’ve put our Kitchen Garden Program under our Science curriculum umbrella this year, and are being really clever about ticking off Science outcomes in kitchen classes. For example, students have been boiling eggs and looking at boiling temperatures.”
Janene says the school’s garden specialist was also a Science specialist, which meant that integrating garden classes into the Science curriculum was a natural fit for the school. She says the school plans to further integrate their Kitchen Garden Program into the curriculum.
Janene says they would look to resources from the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, such as the new Kitchen Garden Syllabus for Primary (Years F–2), for additional support. As well, the positive benefits of the Kitchen Garden Program in the school environment also has a flow-on effect in the home, Janene adds.
She says she has heard many stories of children being more open to trying new foods at home after growing and cooking them at school.