Conference feedback: Making lunch together

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More feedback (& my commentary) from my presentation at the IERG conference last week! For the original posts on our (crazy fun) practice of making lunch together, see this long initial one, and this pithier one.

Making lunch together

My own young adult children can not cook thanks to my control-freakish nature! My bad. I wish I could remedy that by turning back the clock.

Ha! That makes perfect sense.

Perfect sense, I mean, because teaching kids to cook takes time, and is dangerous. It takes time (not to mention saintly patience) to teach kids to cook. And when you leave them to their own devices in the kitchen, there's always the chance they'll burn the house down.

Our society has seen wisdom in allowing professionals to take on a similar task: teaching our children to drive. It's time-intensive, and boy, is it scary.

My hat's off to parents who choose to teach their own kids to drive. But for the rest of us, there are driving instructors.

The same thing makes sense with cooking, I think. Only better — once the kids learn to cook with some skill, they can cook together with their parents at home.

Hot dang!


 

Cultural content: gyoza, dumpling, etc. Could lead into history...

Yes, absolutely! (How fun, too, to not just learn about the culture the food comes from, but the history of the food in that culture.)


Many kids don't know certain foods.

Y'know, I forget about this. There's more low-hanging fruit than I'm prone to acknowledge: how much fun will it be just to introduce kids to, say, sorbet? Or a scone? Or a wild rice soup?


 

Stories about how spices have affected history...

Yes!


 

YES! YES! YES!

Yes!


Food sensitivities, religous restrictions, etc.

Man have I thought a lot about this. The conclusion I've come to is that we'll need to mostly handle this on a case-by-case basis.

(The following thoughts apply to our future school outside Seattle — I won't try to speak for Lee and his school on Hilton Head. Different cultures call for, unsurprisingly, different food norms!)

Since we're taking seriously the ability of food to knit together, community, our reflexive move should be to be as inclusive as possible: if one student can't eat peanuts, then we should avoid peanuts in our meals. I presume there will be exceptions to that — times when we'll make a dish, but serve it on the side, so everyone can participate in the main meal.

As a general rule, I think we should de-emphasize meat. When we prepare it, it should be sourced from a farm that we're happy to have our kids visit. (Whatever the other virtues of industrial meat production, it serves to distance people from their food. We want to war against that.)

Lee, your thoughts?


Time.

This was a point that participants made repeatedly: how will we ever have time to do all of these fun curricular things, if we're making food every day? Some participants were quite pessimistic on our ability to pull this off; others were quite optimistic. I appreciated hearing both sides of that.

Lee, here are my thoughts as to how we need to approach the "we're trying to squeeze an ocean into a swimming pool" problem.

  1. A lot of these fun curricular things are done by individual students, during their independent work time — not as a whole class, together. So students will do some of them daily, but others perhaps weekly — or even less frequently than that.
  2. We can have students form teams, and take turns making lunch. One team can make the food, another team can prepare the table, another team can clean up afterwards. This'll limit the time that any one group spends on lunch.
  3. We should guide students to get faster, as they gain experience. I'm not thinking about "fast-food" speed — that's too quick to get kids to think about the chemistry and biology of what they're doing — but a faster pace than they otherwise might fall into. Speeding up could be particular help toward guiding students into a flow state. (Imagine this: cooking lunch as a group flow state. Oh happy experiment we're embarking on!)
  4. We should make sure that our heavy skills-building periods are intense. I've heard this from many homeschoolers, and as a tutor I can confirm it: when students want to learn, and the teacher is prepared, a lot of learning can happen very quickly. In order to justify these other curriculum aspects that could be maligned as "froofy" (cooking, handwriting, place-study, people in your neighborhood…), we need to guarantee that the academic core is strong. (Measuring student progress will be useful here.)
  5. Lee, how long will your school days at Island Academy be? With our Seattle-area school, I'm interested in looking into a longer school day. (Especially if we can abolish/restrict homework.)

More land-based cooking: take part in a hunt, field dressing, skinning, prep, & cooking/smoking, etc. Bridge traditional methods with modern culinary practices.

Whoa. I'm having a hard time imagining pulling this off. (I can only imagine a mother in our office screaming "WHAT DID YOU TEACH MY SON TO DO TO A SQUIRREL?")

But: I love it. I agree that, at least theoretically, this would be a very good thing to do with kids (at least those who aren't ethical vegetarians).

As I continue to mull over this, I wonder if there are a few halfway-steps that we could definitely do:

  • Have kids grow some of their food. (I didn't mention this at the conference, but it should become a very important part of our school.)
  • Collect wild mushrooms. (Dangerous if we don't do it right, so we should do research, and then go out with an expert.)

 

Can kids choose what they make?

Boy, how did I not think of this before? Yes, they should have a voice in this. It shouldn't be a totally free choice on their part (for one reason, part of our purpose is to take kids outside of their comfort zones), but they should be part of the steering committee for what we're preparing in future weeks and months.

Lee, how can we allow students choice in what foods we'll be eating?


 

All right, that's it for now. I'll be going camping for the next few days (for the record, we're bringing along our own industrially-prepared food!), but when I come back, I'll be hashing through the feedback I got on our Song-a-day curriculum, and our People in your neighborhood curriculum.

And then, I'll actually start talking about new things!

Brandon Hendrickson

Seattle, WA