Date posted: January 24, 2018
Today, Joan Exley, Literacy Outreach Coordinator for Nelson, shares her personal and professional experiences with combining literacy and food.
One day, when my kids were little, we were eating lunch at the table when a ‘teachable moment’ happened. We had some delicious bits on the table: hummus and carrots, yogurt, cheese and rice crackers…. and a bag of letter pretzels. Letter pretzels are just that, mini pretzels in the shape of letters. The bag got knocked over and out spilled the pretzels. As we leaned forward to clean it up, out popped the word ‘cat’. I said ‘Oh, look! The word cat’! And so, it began. We all dove in making as many ‘at’ words as we could. There was hat, mat, fat, rat, sat. And then there were the kids’ names, Kate and Tessa. Then Mom. Then Dad. Then the dog’s name, Sally. It was such fun … and it was family literacy in action. We know that children learn through play, and playing with letters is a wonderful foundational literacy activity. Our pretzel letter fun led to other fun and edible letter activities. There was the box of letter pasta that went into our soup. There was making giant cookies in the shape of the letters of the kids’ first names.
Food and learning are often intertwined. In community literacy programs, we often include a healthy snack. Food brings people together and creates a community and a shared experience. It opens the doors for sharing our culture, our culinary skills and pushes us to try new things. This year’s Family Literacy Week theme is ‘What’s on My Plate?’ What a wonderful opportunity to share a bit about ourselves and make learning fun … and delicious!
In an English as a Second Language (ESL) class for newcomers to Canada, we have a sushi chef. He offered to teach us all to make beautiful sushi. And what a lesson it was! We learned about cutting cucumber in quite miraculous ways, about moisture and rice, and about where our fellow student grew up and learned his skills. Our sushi lesson led to more potlucks with a diversity of food that makes my mouth water at the memory. Our ESL groups often want to have potlucks with class. The sharing of foods brings them together around something common to us all, gives the students an opportunity to share their strengths and experiences, and builds new friendships. Learning often starts with ‘what’s on our plates’ and takes us in unexpected directions.
Food can be a catalyst for other experiences. In our Cyber Seniors tech class one year, we were learning about creating documents, inserting images, and manipulating fonts. So we created a shared cookbook. We practiced those digital skills, while sharing recipes, having potlucks, and building new and deeper friendships around the common experience of foods.
In Family Literacy programs, we often have a shared snack. There are conversations about handling picky eaters, budget friendly recipes, allergies and healthy food choices. There are thank you rhymes, songs about food, and stories like The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carl and Yoko by Rosemary Wells. And sometimes there are letter pretzels.
‘What’s on My Plate?’ is an invitation. An invitation to share recipes and healthy food; to share our cultures; to show how math plays a big role in the kitchen; to learn about people and place in our communities. And all that sharing is one of the wonderful ingredients of community learning.
For more ideas about Family Literacy Week events in your community, to participate in Decoda Literacy Solution’s photo contest, and to get free activity sheets and resources, click here.