Thursday, October 21, 2010

Reminder: We will be closed Friday, October 22nd

We wanted to remind everyone that we will be closed this Friday, October 22nd, in order to attend the 2010 American Montessori Society Fall Conference in San Diego.
We are looking forward to spending the weekend with other Montessorians and returning with new ideas and inspiration. We will re-open on Monday, october 25th!
We apologize for any inconvenience!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall Open House

We wanted to thank all of the prospective parents who attended today's Fall Open House. Thank you for your interest in our program. It was a pleasure to meet all of you!
We will begin accepting applications for the 2011-2012 school year on November 1st. If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Autumn Harvest: Field Trip to the Family Table Farm Pumpkin Patch

Yesterday, we commemorated the beginning of fall and the end of our Farm to School Community Supported Agriculture program with a trip to visit The Family Table Farm.

For the past six months, we have partnered with The Family Table Farm to raise the next generation with increased awareness of the importance of enjoying nutritious, local, seasonal, sustainably produced food. During the course of our partnership, the children had the opportunity to visit the farm to learn about the cultivation of food, to maintain an organic, heirloom vegetable garden at the school, and engage in food preparation activities using the produce that we received in our weekly CSA shares from the farm. The children also had the opportunity to engage in a large variety of hands-on, developmentally appropriate, science activities and acquired a lot of botany knowledge over the course of the program (the life cycle of plants, the parts of plants, the role of insects as pollinators, different methods of seed dissemination, etc).

A few weeks ago, during "line time," I told the children that we would be going on another field trip to visit the farm. The children were immediately excited. I began asking them about what they remembered seeing at the farm on their first trip. Immediately, they answered "Farmer Mike" ("Farmer Mike" is a bit of a celebrity at the school- on the days that he dropped off the CSA shares, the children would literally shriek "Farmer Mike is here," and race to the door to say hello). After some more thought, the children also remembered the tractor, the hay bales, the horses, and the vegetables. "Do you know what else Farmer Mike has at the farm," I asked the rapt crowd? "A pumpkin patch," I whispered. The children spontaneously applauded. I knew we were off to a good start.

Friday morning, the children were literally beside themselves with excitement. They stood watch at the fence, anxiously awaiting the first glimpse of the school bus (some of them compulsively chanting "Come here school bus" until it arrived).

Twelve little children in one straight line, boarded the school bus and met Mr. Patrick, our driver.

As always, our elated children had impeccable manners on the bus, making it a very enjoyable ride (in fact, in what has become a common trend on these trips, Mr. Patrick commented several times on the self-control and courtesy demonstrated by the children- telling me that they were "so polite that it was a pleasure to drive them" and referring to it as "a welcome break" from the rest of his day) . Some of them chatted quietly with their friends, others pointed out familiar landmarks, and a sizable group erupted into an impromptu performance of Yellow Submarine (or more precisely, an impromptu performance of the refrain "We all live in a yellow submarine").

At last, the bus arrived at the farm. We were extremely fortunate to have chosen a beautiful, sunny day, for our trip. The excited children spilled out of the bus and raced toward the barn, where they saw Farmer Mike approaching.

Before leaving the school, I had solicited volunteers to present Farmer Mike with a little token of our appreciation; to my amusement, all of the children insisted upon participating.

After a few moments spent getting re-acquainted, the children ambled down the path to the farm, literally walking hand in hand (and, to our host's great amusement, still singing their Yellow Submarine refrain).

We walked for a bit, until we arrived at the pumpkin patch. Farmer Mike paused, turned around, and began "This is the pumpkin patch...". Apparently, no further explanation was required; before Mike could finish his sentence, the flock of children descended upon the field of twisted vines and beloved squash.

It took longer than you might expect for the surprisingly judicious children to make their selections. In fact, selecting the perfect jack-o-lantern is much more difficult than I remembered; in addition to aesthetic considerations, there are significant logistical concerns as well. Several children tested (somewhat comically, through repeated trial and error) the limits of how large a pumpkin specimen they could manage to carry out of the patch, while still managing to step over the tangles of pumpkin vines.

At last everyone had chosen a jack-o-lantern!

Then, Farmer Mike offered the children some refreshments. The children enjoyed some fresh apple cider and chatted politely with their gracious hosts.

I honestly doubt that there could be a better place for a preschool field trip than a farm. What could be better than wide open spaces in which to run, climb, and explore?

To my surprise, I have noticed an increasing number of local farms being converted into seasonal "pumpkin patch amusement parks" (places to go, pick out a pumpkin or two, and spend the rest of the afternoon riding go karts and bumper cars, eating corn dogs, and posing for a photo opportunity in front of a kitschy Halloween mise-en-scene). I am not certain of the intended demographic, but I suspect that this results from confusing what children find enticing and stimulating with adult notions of entertainment.
"So, what is there to do on a field trip to the farm," you might ask? Well, there are vegetables to be examined, frogs to be found, fields of tall grass to run through,

there are good friends to relax with,

and, if you're really lucky, there might even be something challenging to climb on! The children spied thie pile of tree stumps, which provided the children with a perfect little obstacle course. They entertained themselves for nearly thirty minutes with climbing on the stumps, trying to balance on top of them and jump from stump to stump, riding them like horses, and laughing at each others antics.

The children were extremely content enjoying these simple pleasures until one small boy looked up to see Farmer Mike and his daughter Emily coming with the tractor. Despite the giggling and commotion, a single excited shriek "The tractor is coming" was the only provocation necessary to send the children racing back through fields to pile into the wagon.

Once the children had piled into the wagon, Farmer Mike distributed bags to the children for harvesting vegetables, and Farmer Emily took the delighted children for a ride around the farm.

The tractor came to a stop in front of the turnip bed, where Farmer Mike provided a brief demonstration before turning the excited children loose. If you have never considered raw turnips to be a kid-friendly food, you are not alone. On our first trip to the farm, I was very surprised (as was our bus driver!) to see the children walking around gleefully munching on fistfuls of them. Since then, turnips have become one of the most highly coveted rations from the weekly CSA share (the children literally race outside and begin ransacking the cooler in search of them); so, I must admit, I was not particularly surprised to see that my normally restrained students were taking full advantage of our host's generosity and greedily stuffing their bags with arm fulls the fair tap roots.
The children emerged from the field with their bags brimming with turnips. Farmer Mike asked the children if they would like to assist him with some "real farm work." Needless to say, they were very enthusiastic! In fact, I imagine that the only thing that might have pleased them more was if he asked whether they would like to drive his tractor.

The children returned to the pumpkin patch where Farmer Mike told them that he wanted their help removing the rest of the pumpkins to turn over the patch. The children busied themselves with stripping the field of its yield, until all that remained was a big pile of pumpkins.

It was already time to return to the bus, but the children clamored for another tractor ride until Mike agreed to one more ride around the farm.

The children boarded the bus clutching their bags full of turnips and their treasured pumpkins. After an extended chorus of "I'm not ready to go back to school," they conceded defeat and returned to the school.

Once the prized pumpkins were safely stored in their cubbies, the thoroughly exhausted children ate their lunches and settled into the nap room (to dream of pumpkins and tractors, no doubt).

After nap, the children were invited to clean out the school's pumpkin in order to make pumpkin pie. They carefully extracted the seeds and stringy membrane; then, the pumpkin was roasted until it was tender.

Then, our little pastry chefs donned their aprons (with some help from the older children) and

combined the pumpkin with brown sugar and fragrant spices to make a lovely pumpkin custard.

Each child carefully rolled out their own little pie crust,

cut it with a round, placed the crust into their own small pie tin, and filled it to the brim with the spicy filling.

While their pies baked and the heady aroma of cinnamon and cloves filled the school, the children went outside to play in the leaves and satisfy their voracious appetites with the last of Farmer Mike's turnips. It made me a little sad to think that this would be the last time this year that I would watch the children wandering around the yard munching on turnips.
Once the pies had cooled, the children assembled on the patio to enjoy their final CSA meal together surrounded by frolicing squirrels a canopy of beautiful fall foliage. In a most fitting conclusion to our CSA program, we ended by celebrating the fall harvest with pumpkin pie,
fresh from the farm, in the company of good friends.

Our sincerest thanks goes to Mike, Lisel, and the entire Record family, for all of their beautiful produce and for providing the students with an unforgettable experience. We feel so lucky to have found you and we are so grateful for your friendship, kindness, and for sharing your considerable knowledge and talent with us. I have no doubt that the children have a greater willingness to try new foods, and a better understanding of where food comes from and an appreciation for the hardworking people who grow it as a result of the program. You will be greatly missed.
For more information about The Family Table Farm, please visit their website at:
I would also like to thank my assistants, Katie Dirrim and Jennifer Voggesser, for using their considerable talents to take the photographs that appear here.