Friday, October 24, 2008

Autumn Learning Adventures

Our September apple picking excursion was the unofficial kickoff to our first season of informal homeschooling. Considering myself a dedicated (though inexperienced) homeschooling mom, yet uninterested in rigid curricula, I have been putting my college education to use in creating my own simple lesson plans. I wanted to base my curriculum on seasonally appropriate units that would be of interest to my two preschoolers, so for September and October, I decided to study Things That Grow with a fall-themed focus. Since there were so many subcategories to address, I broke the unit down into weekly themes of How Plants Grow, Apples, Fruits, Vegetables, Pumpkins, Harvest, Flowers, Trees, and Leaves.

When I saw this "Six Things I've Learned" game on a friend's blog, I thought it would be a perfect way to summarize our adventures so far. So, in the name of home education, here are six things I have learned in the past month:

1. Apples are the best fruit. You can pick them, eat them, and bake pies and crisps with them. They are available year-round, and stay fresh in the refrigerator for weeks. The children and I are fascinated by the star in the center of the core, and we had fun decorating Bible verses with prints made from halved apples.

Papayas, on the other hand, are not so wonderful. We learned how big a papaya is (Donny wondered if it was some sort of misshapen watermelon) and that slightly under-ripe ones do not taste good at all. We discovered that they are filled with slimy, edible black seeds, reminiscent of a pomegranate. I concluded that if we are going to experience foreign fruits as a sensory activity in the future, it might be prudent to buy a smaller fruit (like a mango?) to avoid excessive waste.

2. I am not a big fan of Brussels sprouts, either. I had little experience with the mini-cabbages until I requested some while they were on sale during our Vegetable Week. My dear husband came home with a giant Styrofoam tray, neatly covered in plastic wrap, and overflowing with supplies for our "Try a New Vegetable" activity. While a few Brussels sprouts would have been a fine learning experience, an entire tray full was far too much for the taste buds of my family. I once again wished that we had a rabbit, dog, pig, or compost pile, because after choking down as many as possible, the leftovers ended up in the trash. Leafy green things may be full of useful vitamins, but give me an orange vegetable any day.

3. Speaking of which, I also learned that pumpkins are quite useful, especially for someone who should buy stock in canned pumpkin because she uses it so often. I originally purchased a pumpkin for the sensory experience of scooping out the seeds, but my Donny missed out on the fun because - not at all unlike his mother - he did not want to get his hands sticky. Hayden and I managed to fish out all of the seeds, though, and after a generous sprinkling of salt and 10 minutes in the oven at 325 degrees, we had a tasty snack to enjoy. We cooked the pumpkin according to The Nourishing Gourmet's recommendations, which was really no different than cooking a butternut squash, and I saved the puree to use in baking. Because Hayden is allergic to eggs, I often substitute mashed bananas, or more frequently, canned pumpkin, in baked goods (about 1/4 cup pumpkin or mashed banana equals one egg). I had always been under the impression that cooking a fresh pumpkin was a lot of work for a stringy, watery mess, so I'm glad we tried this experiment. Certainly, the effort required was more than opening a can, but it was worthwhile for the bonus seed snack and the hands-on learning experience.

Since this is getting long, I will save the other three things for next time...and don't worry, not everything I am learning is about produce!

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