The Transformation of a Tomato
An inspired thought, turned into an idea and now has grown into a long standing tradition. A few days after the opening of the Acorn School, my father Frank planted a small garden. He thought that caring for a garden would be an integral part of the school as it would teach children responsibility and respect for nature, and would offer many learning invitations. My father started off by planting a simple garden with tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and herbs, like basil, oregano and thyme. Within no time, children and adults together launched into investigations and research, through explorations in the garden throughout the seasons.
The new garden spurred teacher and parent reflections and many question ensued:
What elements of continuity exist between the garden and the identity of the school?
What theories and hypotheses will the children propose during their encounters with the growing, ever changing garden landscape?
How do children build knowledge in the process of exploring the garden?
How will children make connections between the growing vegetables and herbs and their prior experience with these foods?
How will children represent their growing understanding and experiences in their garden investigations?
Reflections on these questions and observations made during the course of garden growth and harvest indicated a wealth of research project possibilities. Children continued to build theories with a continued interest in the tomatoes. Children observed the tomatoes as they changed from green to red and related the changes to the ongoing changes in weather, the seasons and the colourful leaves.
Many moments throughout the school day involved collaborations and discussions about the children’s tomato theories. On one of these days, a teacher asked the children what they thought a tomato might turn into. One of the children shared a story of her Nonna and Nonno (grandmother and grandfather) who pick tomatoes from their garden and use them to make tomato sauce. This story created excitement within the group of children and many eagerly shared their stories of past experience with the transformation of a tomato. Some of the children had helped to make tomato sauce; others offered their knowledge of the role tomatoes play in ketchup and soup.
From this early experience with tomatoes in the garden and the enthusiastic stories of tomato experiences a tradition has grown at Acorn School. From the small group of six children who attended Acorn School when it opened, the “Transformation of the Tomato” has become an honoured tradition shared by many children, teachers and families.
We thought it was important to share this story of tomatoes with families, colleagues and the greater community as it illustrates how a small school was able to build a committed community of learners over time.
As we observe, document and interpret experiences and investigations along with the children and other teachers, we realize the power of narrative and the importance of sharing our teaching stories. Each year as we revisit the “Transformation of the Tomato” project new possibilities emerge and we are reminded of the importance of reflection to our teaching, as we ask critical questions of ourselves to further our learning. Revisiting documentation in the form of photos, slideshows, documentation panels and our many social media feeds, reminds us of the importance of re-visiting, re-thinking and re-interpreting, the teaching and learning moments we share with children. Documentation is the powerful tool we use to respectfully assess ourselves as educators and to thoughtfully consider our work with children.
In our eighth year at Acorn School, the journey of the tomato has continued to sustain many engaging inquiries. Teachers and children bring out archives along with tools, paintings and sculptures of past tomato projects, and then dialogue about the past, present and future tomato transformations. Both the teacher and the child build knowledge as they share past experiences and negotiate future explorations and investigations, based on their inquiry interests and questions.
Every year at harvest time, Acorn Schools’ garden blooms with many fall vegetables, waiting to become soups, stews and baking ingredients. Indoors, jars are being prepared in preparation for teachers, children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and community members who come to the school to prepare the tomato sauce.
What are the children learning?
Principles of Edible Education
Food is an Academic Subject
A school garden, kitchen, and cafeteria are integral to the core academic mission of the school, so that ecology and gastronomy help bring alive every subject, from reading and writing to science and art.
School Provides Lunch for Every Child
From preschool through high school, every child is served a wholesome, delicious meal, every day. Good food is a right not a privilege. Providing it every day brings children into a positive relationship with their health, their community, and the environment.
Schools Support Farms
School cafeterias (or kitchens) buy seasonally fresh food from local, sustainable farms and ranches, not only for reasons of health and education, but as a way of strengthening local food economies.
Children Learn by Doing
Hands-on education, in which the children themselves do the work in the vegetable beds and on the cutting boards, awakens their senses and opens their minds, both to their core academic subjects and to the world around them.
Beauty is a Language
A beautifully prepared environment, where deliberate thought has gone into everything from the garden paths to the plates on the tables, communicate to children that we care about them.
“Right there in the middle of every school day, lies time and energy already devoted to the feeding of children. We have the power to turn that daily school lunch from an afterthought into a joyous education, a way of caring for our health, our environment, and our community.”
Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea by Alice Waters (2008)