Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We didn't cook but there were still dishes to wash

In September I set a goal to cook with my class every week. I needed the goal to push myself to make cooking a regular part of our classroom instead of a once in a while sort of thing. And so far it's worked. There have been a couple of weeks where I know I would have skipped the cooking if I didn't have that crazy goal-obsessed voice in my head saying, “You have to do this. You said you were going to do this.”

Last week, as I planned ahead for this week, I had to tell that little voice that sometimes it just doesn't make sense, even if I promised myself.

This week was Halloween, every teacher's favorite holiday (not). Our school has a whole school parade through town which essentially eats up the entire afternoon. (It's pretty amazing. The state highway gets closed while our ragtag lot of 140 students and 20 some teachers march down the road and back, to an admiring audience of no more than 40 parents and community members, waving from the side of the road.)

We also have a long art project scheduled, taking up three hours of time during the course of the week. And Friday is conference day – no school for the kids.

Taking this all into consideration, there was no logical way to do a cooking project that would mean anything in the context of our current U.S. Geography studies. So I took a deep breath and told that pushy voice inside my head to shut up about it. Just for one week.


Monday afternoon our class had a small party after the Halloween parade. As I have done every year, I asked parents to send in a food item to share if possible. I asked for a range of foods such as veggies and dip, fresh fruit, cheese and crackers, baked goods, and apple cider. I love sweets as much as the next person and this is a way to model planning a balanced party, where the guest can eat sugary stuff in concert with some healthier choices.

In previous years I would have picked up some paper plates and cups for the party. Not so on Monday. This fall, an important part of getting ready to cook with my class was making sure we had reusable dishes, cups and utensils so that we weren't filling a trash can with paper waste every time we ate something we'd cooked. In August I spent a portion of my classroom budget money on sturdy, reusable plates, bowls, cups and silverware. A few weeks back I taught everyone how to use our semi-primitive dish washing set up, consisting of a basin of warm soapy water set in the sink, the faucet running cool rinse water alongside the basin (but not in it so it cools off and overflows), and the drying rack next to the sink, that (mostly) drains back into the sink. It's not a perfect system, but it's what I've got to work with.

As the Halloween party wound down, I stood by the sink to monitor the dish washing. Every single child had a cup and a plate so it was our biggest load of dishes to date. I was amazed that washing dishes was a new concept for some students. Many didn't appreciate how a sponge dipped in warm soapy water would be a good starting point, others weren't sure what to do with the dishes when they finished. One student just set them precariously on the edge of the counter and would have wandered off if I hadn't called him back over. Part of what surprised me about this is that overall this group is very capable and industrious and can get the room cleaned up very quickly once they get into motion! I would like to think that if they all knew how to do their dishes, they would have been more efficient at it without so much support from the adults in the room.

Ok, I know, it was Halloween and they were all excited. I get it. But I also realized that teaching kids how to help clean up after we eat is just as important as how to prepare the food. Imagine their kitchens when they grow up if they don't get practice at cleaning up after themselves! It makes me wonder if I should appoint a rotating team of kids to wash up the community dishes (pots, pans, etc) instead of dong them myself or relying on whatever kind adult or child volunteer wanders past at the right moment.

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