Slowing down to think about where our food comes from helps kids develop a deeper appreciation and connection with nature and an appreciation for all of the people who work together to make our communities thrive. In this activity, inspired by the book Apple Cake: A Gratitude by Dawn Casey, kids and their grown-ups cook a recipe together, taking time to show gratitude for the people, plants and animals that contributed to their food.
Get inspiration from literature:
Read or watch and listen to the read-aloud of Apple Cake by Dawn Casey. Notice together how each of the ingredients in the cake came from a gift from the planet! What did the family in the story do to show gratitude for each of the plants and animals that contributed to their cake?
Choose a recipe:
Try the apple cake recipe the author shares at the end of the story (shown below). Or, choose one of your favorite family recipes. When cooking with kids, we recommend starting simple; five or fewer ingredients is a good guideline. Need ideas? Try out some of our favorite kid-friendly campfire recipes that can be cooked over a fire, grill or on the kitchen stove.
Create your dish together:
As you cook, invite kids to help with tasks you think they can do independently or with minimal support. Measuring and pouring ingredients into a bowl, mixing ingredients together, brushing or “painting” oil onto bread or vegetables, removing seeds or husking corn and rinsing veggies are all great entry points for most kids. Read here for more ways to make cooking with kids enjoyable for the whole family.
Appreciate nature’s ingredients:
As you prepare your dish, slow down to let kids touch, smell and taste the individual ingredients. Talk about which ingredients are grown in the earth and which come from animals. How did the soil, rain and sun help these ingredients come to be? Who are the people who tended to the crops and cared for the animals? Who are the people who delivered the ingredients to the stores and helped your family to bring these ingredients into your home? Take a moment to say “thank you” to each living thing that contributed to the ingredients.
Express gratitude for the land on which you live:
An important part of the land on which we each live is the history of that land and the history of who has cared for the land before us. Learn about the people or peoples who live and cared for the land in which you live and are preparing your meal on today. If you are just getting started, apps like https://native-land.ca/ allow you to find out which Indigenous People live, or historically lived, in your area. Read here for more ideas on how to include Native American history in your outdoor adventures.
Enjoy your meal with gratitude:
As you sit down to enjoy your culinary creation together, take another moment to express gratitude for the planet and for all of the people and living things that contributed to your dish.
Want more ideas like this?
Try our Fall Feast DIY inspired by the read-aloud of The Greatest Table by Michael J. Rosen. Or, make a pretend teddy bear picnic and invite stuffed animals and friends to join you for a celebratory feast.
Why is this activity great for kids?
There are loads of learning benefits to cooking with children! Following a recipe supports receptive language skills, reinforces important math and science concepts and taking time to smell, touch and taste ingredients activates multiple senses, helping kids to feel more alert and focused. Slowing down to think about where our food comes from helps kids develop a deeper appreciation and connection with nature and an appreciation for all of the people who work together to make our communities thrive. Learning about how different people live or have lived on the land in which you live also helps children take another person's perspective—a key component of empathy. And, science shows that people who make noticing, feeling and showing gratitude a part of their daily routine experience a host of positive effects. Read more about the benefits of gratitude practices here.
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We think of self control as a child’s ability to focus on something in such a way that maximizes learning. In order to do that, they first need to direct their attention and focus on a single thing. They also need to discern which information around them is most important and deserving of their attention. Thirdly, they need something called “inhibition.” Think of inhibition as the ability to control impulses, block out distractions and continue attending to the same thing. Focus, discerning and inhibition all require rather fancy brain work and are thought to be part of the “executive functions” or the set of cognitive processes involving the prefrontal cortex that help us manage ourselves and the environment to achieve a goal.
Why does it matter?
Our world is full of distractions, more today than ever. Kids who are in any learning situation need the ability to control their impulses, block out noise and attend to the person, objects, events, or discussions that are central to learning. As classroom teachers, we saw that kids who did this ruled the classroom. As outdoor educators and parents, we know the same holds true outside of school.
But don’t take our word for it; the research is impressive. It turns out that these executive function skills are closely tied to success in the classroom, higher level education and life beyond school. Experts like Adele Diamond of the University of British Columbia have shown that, “If you look at what predicts how well children will do later in school, more and more evidence is showing that executive functions—working memory and inhibition—actually predict success better than IQ tests.” Although these skills are difficult for young children and don’t crystallize until adulthood, the more kids practice them, the better at them kids become.
What is a Naturalist?
The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!