The Language of Food: Life, Relationships, and the Human Experience

The Language of Food: Life, Relationships, and the Human Experience

Magic happened today ~ over apples.

Kindergarten children are insightful. Profound, really. A source for constant pondering about many things: life, relationships, and the human experience.

Sitting chopping apples in preparation for making our first-of-the-season Kindergarten batch of apple sauce; amongst apple peelings, cores, and seeds piled up high on our table, a child – one child – joined me.

Quietly. Alone. Without invitation.

The sound of children engaged in various play-based learning activities in the classroom filled the room. This child, for the first time this year, seemed uninterested in these interactions. Having had lots of time to peel apples along with the entire group of children, this child returned to our kitchen studio as I finished up the last of the cutting tasks.

What struck me was not that this child had chosen to sit with me ~ children always seem to gather around their educators ~ but that this child had joined me in silence ~ a deep and long silence. Most often when the children gather, they are full of conversational chatter, touching materials, asking questions, making declarations, and sharing connections and experiences they have had with the materials they see.

This time was different.

Quietly, this child pulled out a chair, touched nothing, carefully placed two hands on the table, and sat watching as I cut apples into small chunks. Nothing unusual here ~ except for one thing ~ the length and depth of silence. It was certainly cause for wonder.

I thought about the moment earlier when another educator brought to my attention the unsafe choice made by this child during recess. I thought about how, moments earlier, this child, with dropped head and lowered eyes, stood unusually quiet while another educator explained to me what had happened. I thought about the silence that followed this child when we returned to the classroom. I thought about how most often this child, like most children, was constantly moving, touching, exploring, and chattering. This moment was different.

As I continued to chop apples, this child watched silently. I let the moment happen. I wondered what the pedagogy of listening might bring to me. I wondered why the silent company joined me today.

I asked, “Would you like some of the apples or peels to eat?”  The child answered with one little nod.

“Help yourself,” I smiled in response.

Peels were the preferred selection. I wondered if hunger was driving this child’s decision to sit with me. I figured play would be next on the schedule of events, perhaps in a few minutes after a belly full of apple.

On the contrary. My company stayed.

And stayed.

And stayed.

Speaking not a word. Eating apple peels. Watching me intently as I cut apples into small chunks.

Finally, I spoke. “What did you do on the weekend?” I was answered with a tiny shrug of the shoulder. “Were you with your mom?” He nodded twice.

Silence.

Perhaps there was nothing to report about the weekend. Perhaps it was a wonderful weekend. On the other hand, perhaps the weekend wasn’t good ~ maybe not worth remembering at all. Perhaps the weekend was too far and away to even think about. Perhaps this child was not looking to share at this moment.

I shifted gears, sharing my own weekend happenings. As I spoke, I watched the child’s eyes move from the pile of apples, to my face, eyes carefully watching me as I told my weekend story. What was it this child was thinking, wondering, questioning, connecting to, or perhaps disconnecting from?  For a split second, I thought I saw the beginning of what might look like talking ~ the formation of an open mouth beginning to make a sound.

And then, just as soon as I thought I saw it, it was gone. Eyes staring down, once again, as selections of apple peels were made most carefully and discerningly. Hmmmm . . . . such deep contemplation. I wondered more.

Enter the second child.

Full of energy and chatting away. “Can I have some peels too. I love apple peels.” The first child and I both nodded. “Yum! Look at this one! It has a hole in it. Now that’s funny!” Examining the newly discovered peel, I noticed the left eyebrow raise as the first child looked carefully at the peel with the hole.

Picking up one of the utensils, a third child joined our gathering and began cutting some of the cores. “Can I eat some of these too?” Nodding, I answered, “Absolutely.” A big smile filled the child’s face and all three children continued eating together.

Our conversation expanded with the inclusion of our two new friends. Mostly, it was about the food: our favourite food, the food we dislike, what our families eat, what we help cook in the kitchen at home, who we cook with, who cooks for us, our favourite meals, our siblings, our parents, our grandparents, and other food-related histories from each of our families. Slowly, I noticed more engagement from my quietest of friends.

Listening carefully to one another, sharing connections, and telling stories, our conversation grew in richness with each of the four of us laughing, adding our own thoughts, and asking questions. It was the first time this year that I had witnessed this kind of conversational engagement and connection among a small group of young learners and myself. It was truly delightful.

For a brief moment, I wondered about a most recent learning session I had attended alongside Michelle van Heugten entitled, “The Language of Food: Connecting Food to Our Image of the Child”. The learning session offered through the Ontario Reggio Association session, and hosted by Rosalba Bortolotti, Paola Hohenadel, and Emily Richards had me inspired to begin this whole cooking experience with the children.

I thought about the conversations shared among educators at this professional learning series session. Was the language of food impacting the building of our relationship, our conversation, our laughter, and love for the moment, right here, right now, in my very own classroom? How might more cooking in Kindergarten open us to even more shared experiences, questions, inquiries, learnings, and relationship building? How might we begin to know one another more readily through interactions such as these? To what other food-focused opportunities might I invite children to explore?

I returned my thoughts to the moment. As the children continued to share utensils, discussing who might continue cutting when one child’s arm got tired, who might count the apple seeds that were on the table, and wondering if a giant apple tree might grow in our school yard if we planted the seeds, the first child–the one who sat in silence in the beginning–leaned over to me and whispered.

Inaudible at first, I whispered back, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you said. Can you say it again?”

The child leaned in, looked to his left and then his right, and whispered again, “I said . . . you forgot to ask me about what I did at recess.”

Pausing, and without losing eye contact, I whispered back, “No. I didn’t. You already know what you need to change. I’m just glad we got to share some food and conversation.”

Smiling, the child ~ a Kindergarten child ~ looking me straight in the eye, whispered back with the tiniest of nods, “Thank you.”

Profound, they are. Insightful for certain. Deeper thinkers than we can even begin to imagine. Our youngest of learners often bring more to us than we can even begin to imagine. Through the language of food, the pedagogy of listening, and the building of trusting and respectful learning relationships, educators and children can share a path that leads to heightened understandings of one another,  life, relationships, and the human experience.

And all of this, from a Kindergarten child ~ over apples ~ magical. Truly magical.



2 thoughts on “The Language of Food: Life, Relationships, and the Human Experience”

  • Truly magical indeed Susan!! Thank you so much for sharing this touching story and thank you for all that you do to teach and guide little people and inspire us all.

    • Thanks for your positive response. I’m happy to know you enjoyed this post. It’s amazing how the little people guide and inspire us! I love that part of the relationship ~ learning from some of our most pure and insightful souls.

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