In many parts of the country, September marks the start of apple season—the sweet, second-most-consumed fruit in the US (only slightly less consumed than bananas). Even if just anecdotally, apples have been thought to not only be sweet, but to contribute to our health. Apples also play a special role in holiday rituals like the apples dipped in honey for Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of a new year in the Jewish tradition.
On the next trip to the grocery store, farmer's market or apple orchard, take a moment to slow down and behold the variety of apples available. Pick up a few different kinds of apples and then try out some of these ways to play and discover more about this amazing type of fruit.
This activity is part of our September Activity Calendar full of ways to connect with nature each day this month. If you don't have one yet, visit tinkergarten.com/calendar to get your free copy!
1- Apple Pick!
If you have an orchard near you, apple-picking is great fun for kids and a way to show kids how apples grow, where they come from and even connect them to the farms and farmers who produce them. Plus, ripe apples just somehow taste better right off the tree!
2 - Apple taste test:
There are 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States and over 7,500 varieties grown worldwide, each with their own flavor and texture. On your next trip to the grocery store, farmer’s market or orchard, bring home a variety of different types of apples. Set out the whole apples and invite kids to explore them using their senses of touch, sight and smell. Then, offer cut slices of each variety to try. Model using descriptive language to describe the flavor and texture of each apple (i.e. sweet, sour, crunchy, crispy, soft). Invite your child to share which variety is their favorite and why.
There are only four species of apple thought to be native to North America, and they are all part of the Mulas or “crabapple” family. The apple varieties we see in the store are all descendents of these apples, brought here from Europe as part of colonization. If you are lucky enough to stumble on wild crabapples, you can welcome kids to compare/contrast wild apples with domesticated apples, and start to help kids understand a bit more about how fruits have come to evolve. Beware, crabapples tend to be bitter, but that makes them all the better for roasting with spices or turning into cider, if you know how!
4- Bobbing for apples:
For this fun classic game, simply fill a container with water and drop apples into the water. Wonder aloud if kids can remove the apples without using their hands. To help make it easier, pick smaller apples, or cut a notch or slice out of the apple. To keep safe from germs, use a different container for each child or family of kids. For a twist on this activity that doesn't involve using kids’ mouths, offer a few scoops and strainers and some bowls for sorting and invite kids to use different tools to collect and sort apples from the water bin. (Fun fact: Apples float because they are made up of about 25% air, making them buoyant and perfect for bobbing!).
5- Apple prints:
Cut apples in half, in quarters or slices and invite kids to use them as stamps with paint or mud. Older kids with safe knife skills can cut them up further to make even more shapes. What patterns and designs can they create with apples?
Kids can also nibble a pattern into the outside of an apple or into a slice. As long as kids have their incisors (i.e. front teeth), they can make nibble marks, big and small, into the skin or flesh of an apple. It can be fun and quite satisfying to have the okay to make patterns or even pictures as they bite. You can model and have some fun with this, too!
6- Campfire roasted apples:
For a campfire apple recipe kids can help prepare: Core and cut apples into quarters. Place in a bowl and squeeze some lemon juice over the apples, then sprinkle with cinnamon. Skewer the wedges and roast over hot coals on a campfire grill until the skins blister and juices begin to run from the apples. This recipe can also be made in the oven.
7- Rotten apples:
While it can be disappointing to reach for an apple and discover it has turned bad, observing the process of decay can also be a great learning experience for kids. Cut an apple into slices and wonder together how the apple might change over time. Come back to check on your apple throughout the day and over the next week and invite kids to share their observations with you. Big kids can keep an observation journal to write or draw the changes they see over time. You can also place each slice of apple in a cup with either water, oil, vinegar or air and make predictions and observe how each of the environmental conditions impacts the way the apple decays.
Why is this activity great for kids?
As kids explore and play with apples, they activate many of their senses, turning on and exercising many parts of the body and brain. Experiencing the differences and similiarities between varieties of apples or watching how apples change as we cook them or leave them to decay helps kids develop observation skills while also connecting more deeply with their food and gifts from nature.
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Curiosity means the ability and habit to apply a sense of wonder and a desire to learn more. Curious people try new things, ask questions, search for answers, relish new information, and make connections, all while actively experiencing and making sense of the world. To us, curiosity is a child’s ticket to engaging fully in learning and, ultimately, in life.
Why does it matter?
As a parent, this skill is, perhaps, the easiest to grasp and has the clearest connection to a young children’s learning. We all want my children to wonder, explore and drive their own learning and, better yet, to experience the world fully. Most teachers would agree that the curious children so often seem more attentive, involved and naturally get the most out of time in school. Even the research suggests that being curious is a driver of higher performance throughout one's life, as much if not more than IQ or test scores.
What are Fine Motor skills?
Fine motor skills refer to how we coordinate small muscle movements in the hands and fingers in conjunction with our eyes. Children begin with whole arm movements at birth and refine their movement, using smaller muscle groups as their bodies develop. With time and practice, children are able to enhance and strengthen the movements in their fingers, becoming able to manipulate small objects and perform a range of important life and learning tasks.
Why does it matter?
Kids need fine motor skills in order to perform every day tasks like using fork and knife, turning a door knob, cutting with scissors and catching and throwing a ball. These same skills are essential for tasks associated with higher level learning like hand writing and typing on a keyboard. If kids enter school without good fine motor skills, they can not only fall behind, but learning can become very frustrating. Moreover, they can develop lasting negative attitudes towards learning and themselves as learners.
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?