The Language of Food: Connecting Food to Our Image of the Child

The Language of Food: Connecting Food to Our Image of the Child

“The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.”

Loris Malaguzzi

This past weekend, I traveled to Guelph, Ontario, Canada with my friend and colleague Michelle van Heugten for the opportunity to attend a learning session offered by the Ontario Reggio Association. Along with the inspiring Rosalba Bortolotti, (yes– THAT Rosalba Bortolotti, of the famed Acorn School formerly located in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), a group of about thirty educators gathered at the beautiful Stroms Farm and Bakery in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Joined by Paola Hohenadel, and celebrity chef Emily Richards who shared a delicious cooking demonstration, we came together to explore the “Language of Food ~ connecting food to our image of the child”. What an exploration it was!

With invitations of fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables, educators were introduced to the many opportunities to weave food into creative expression through various art mediums. Using fresh herbs ground by us in a mortar and pestle, we explored the fragrant aroma that herbs provide. We used these herbs and vegetables to paint on paper by rubbing, twisting, and pounding the colour from them into paper. Infusing vegetables such as beats, kale, and onion skins into water, watercolours were created to provoke artistic expression. Along with paint brushes, charcoal, watercolour pencils, and a variety of specialty art papers, we were invited to express our understandings and wonderings about food in our own unique ways. Creativity was abundant with people sketching, painting, drawing, smudging, labeling, photographing, and discussing their ideas. Some worked in silence while others spoke quietly to themselves or with others. It was magical to watch the creative processes of so many educators. I wondered what this experience might evoke among children in various learning environments.

As we listened to Rosalba speaking from a Reggio-inspired perspective, it became clear that food is a means by which learners can engage in the exploration of understandings about the complex relationships between the child, provocation, the adult, and the community of a school. As Rosalba shared her experiences with food in the learning environment, she spoke passionately about how children are “active protagonists of their own growth and development process,” and that through food, children are empowered to become active participants involved in collaboration, and group construction of their understandings of the world. As I listened, I thought about how deeply complex the relationship is between people and food. I thought deeply about the work of Loris Malaguzzi and the educators in Reggio Emilia who live and celebrate the authentic connection between food and life. To me, the possibilities seem endless.

With an image of the child as confident, capable, competent, curious, a co-constructor, and a natural observer, food invites children’s learning to be made visible in ways most creative and unique. Through artistic expression using various mediums including clay, drawing, sketching, labeling, watercolour paints, watercolour pencil, and pencil crayon, children are invited to express their understandings in deeply personal and creative ways. Authentically inspired, children’s exploration of food in the learning environment encourages much interaction, sharing, and co-construction of knowledge. Inviting children to explore food connects the learning to a sensory experience that heightens children’s senses. Taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound are all intensely connected to the relationship between people and food. Food opens the mind and connects it to the body making for an authentic starting point where children can begin to communicate their perspectives, experiences, and understandings on so many levels.

Through the exploration of planting, growing, maintaining, nurturing, harvesting, touching, smelling, seeing, hearing, and tasting food, children develop in many ways. Empathy, respect, care for others, responsibility, initiative, and culture are just some of the evident learning that presented in the research. Children’s depth of understanding of the complexities of community grew over time as they engaged with people in their community who collaborated as volunteers, teachers, learners, and researchers. Children became co-learners and co-researchers with their educators and families, and community members as they explored new discoveries about food, their community, their personal histories, and themselves. It was clear that, “Children are capable of many things. Among these capabilities are the ability to observe, interact, revisit, interpret, and represent the world within a rich and open environment”.

As the children continued to deepen their research through the exploration of food, the discovery of values and philosophical language deepened thinking and questioning. Children wanted to know more. Educators and family members shared equally in this quest for new understandings. Children sensed the authenticity of their co-learning partners’ interests and desires to know more, deepening the collaborative commitment to the co-construction of knowledge and understandings. As co-researchers and co-learners, celebrated with food at various times throughout the year, the community connection grew.

It is through a multi-sensory kitchen, fragrant garden, and an open-to-learning environment, children, educators, and families can share in “a place of relationships, discoveries, and learning about the complexities of in-depth food education and research.” Reflecting on the words of the work of Rosalba Bortolotti, it is clear that we must continue to ponder and unpack our image of the child. It is through the language of food that we can invite and discover the hundred languages of children as they express their thinking, perspectives, and understandings of the world.

“Each of us has his or her own image of the child, which is reflected in the expectation that we have when we look at a child.”

Gandini & Edwards, 2001


This quote by Gandini & Edwards, shared with us at the session, pushes me to continue thinking as does this thought-provoking learning session. I ponder many questions: How is it that we look at a child? In what way does our image of the child shape the way in which we invite and provoke children to express their thinking? In what ways do we invite children to express their understandings? Do we honour the one hundred languages of children? How might food ignite and inspire creativity, passion, learning, relationships, research, and expression among children in the early years?

I wonder what questions this post makes you ponder. Please share your reflections using the hashtag #languagesoflearning and be sure to tag me at @i2Learn on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, or Google+. I’d love to hear from you!




6 thoughts on “The Language of Food: Connecting Food to Our Image of the Child”

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughtful reflections from Saturday’s event. So glad to meet you and look forward to more dialogue ! Paola

    • Paola,
      So glad you enjoyed the reflections. It was a pleasure meeting you too. Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

  • Using farm fresh food is such a simple pleasure, organic and just developmentally appropriate for young students (or any age really). What an inspiring way to incorporate respect for our ecosystems, healthy active living, economy, math, etc., etc. The student driven inquiries, from this approach of learning, will surely be deep and meaningful.
    I love the Guelph field trip idea!

    • Thanks so much for your reply, Linda. This was a Reggio conference put on by the Ontario Reggio Association. It was very thought-provoking! I agree with you that the learning in this way will be deep and meaningful.

  • I think the language of food goes beyond the idea of food as on a source of nutrition and necessity. Over the many years of visiting the schools of Reggio, I observe the place of journey of learning about cultures, different experiences, the sense of tastes as more such as listening, touching, exploring, dialogues with the culture of Reggio Emilia and its community. To bring this back to our own community has given me the opportunity to slow down and to reflect on my own learning, culture, and about my school community. Food is one connection because it also reminds of memories (happy, sad, etc) it reminds of place of where we want to be or a place that we once were at. Bringing children together in a school to build a culture of the school gives children a sense of belonging, responsibility, and comfort. When you bring a school garden into the school, it opens something deeper, food education and research, sustainability, awareness of environmental concerns and care, respectfully attitudes towards nature. The outdoors is not only for us to bring beautiful ‘activities’ for children, we don’t need that, we need children to be immersed in and with nature to fully become aware of the world. School gardens are a wonderful place to dig into and for educators who worry if academics are covered in all areas of the gardens, it definitely has a strong presence in the sciences, maths, languages….the theory of the hundred languages is explored.

    • “We need children to be immersed in and with nature to fully become aware of the world.” Rosalba Bortolotti
      Once again, Rosalba, your words paint a beautiful image of going deeper with the theory of the hundred languages, our image of the child, and the interconnectedness of a garden and so many areas of the curriculum. The child’s whole experience is heightened in such learning spaces and your research certainly supports the vast, multi-layers of learning that takes place when we create a culture of learning that explores this magical garden space. Thank you so much for your continued wisdom and reflections. You move my own thinking along each time you share your insights. #languagesoflearning

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