Not all important lessons take place in the classroom. At Coromandel Valley Primary School in South Australia, students are learning that time in the kitchen and garden is a powerful way to build social connections and life skills. The IB school is a member of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, which aims to teach children and young people how to take care of themselves, each other, and the planet through fresh, seasonal food.
Year 1 students at Coromandel Valley Primary School participate in a farm to table unit, where they experience the full life cycle of the food that ends up on their plates. Students are engaged in every step: collaborating with each other to plant the first seeds and nurturing their growth, right through to harvesting, preparing, and sharing a meal together. Garden specialist, Jenny Tucker, has been able to tailor what plants are grown, so students can take ownership of the entire process within the 6-to-8 week cycle of the unit. “Growing, cooking and sharing food definitely contributes to a sense of connectedness amongst students,” explains Jenny. “Students have shown they are keen to be involved in the garden, whether it’s propagating, planting, watering or weeding. There is a role for everyone, giving students the opportunity to refocus and connect.”
When harvesting produce from the garden, students can see the value in their shared contributions. The same applies in the kitchen. “Working in groups, student collaboration is required to decide on a recipe, source ingredients and allocate tasks,” says Jenny. “I love hearing the ‘happy chatter’ amongst students when it comes to sharing food. Students are often happy to chat with both peers and adults while working side by side in the kitchen and garden. They will talk about their own experiences, share their thoughts and ask questions.”
Inquiry is at the heart of the Kitchen Garden Program. Planting a seed and watching it grow or observing what it takes to make dough rise creates curious learners. According to Coromandel Valley Primary School’s PYP co-ordinator, Kate O’Driscoll, “the kitchen and garden are seen as strong physical resources supporting inquiry-based learning where student agency, decision-making, and student-led actions are naturally embedded. These are spaces that support students to consolidate their learning.”
Building on these soft skills, students in year 2 of the program learn about water through a series of experiments to determine what plants need to thrive. They evaluate how different amounts of water influence the growth of the plants and determine the best conditions for optimal growth. It’s a hands-on way to learn about the environmental impact of the food on their plates – equipping students with the tools to make sustainable choices.
Students further develop their practical skills by running a food market in year 5, exploring real-world responsibility and scenarios requiring cooperation and leadership. “They are encouraged to evaluate needs versus wants to determine suitable products and services, and to practice skills such as budgeting,” Kate explains. “It is a long-term aim for this unit that the kitchen will be used to produce products that can then be sold.”
While projects like the food market step outside the boundaries of traditional subjects and teach students how to think independently, they also emphasise the importance of social connectedness. Food is a natural conduit to celebrate diversity and build cultural understanding. Which is why the act of coming together to share a meal is a at the heart of every Kitchen Garden Program, including at Coromandel Valley Primary School.
“Food is used to celebrate diversity and different cultures,” says Jenny. “Pizza is always a favourite, while sushi and cold rolls have proven popular. Teachers have also incorporated the indigenous ingredient wattle seed into biscuits and damper. This provides the opportunity to talk about the origin of food and ingredients, discuss traditions, and foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of the different cultures that make up our school community.”
The philosophical crossovers with IB schools such as Coromandel Valley Primary School and the Kitchen Garden Program are broad. Both seek to develop curious, compassionate citizens of the world – life-long learners with practical skills and a sense of responsibility towards each other and the planet.
To find out more about the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program visit: www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au