Despite teaching a variety of different grades and at many different schools, parent engagement has always been very important to me. Over the summer, I re-read the Full-Day Early Learning Kindergarten Program document, and I was thrilled to see the many references to parental involvement that are highlighted best in this blog post. Over the year, my partner and I have looked at different ways to involve parents. Often this involvement is from afar, as we talk with parents about their children, engage in discussions on class blog posts, and communicate via emails. We wanted more though.
We decided to start with our Food Fridays. Every Friday, we do some cooking with the class. We’ve tried to include different cultural recipes to expose students to various foods, and give opportunities for students to talk about and connect with food items that many of them eat at home. Cooking is always done as part of a small group, and students are invited to participate in many different ways. Some students eagerly measure, mix, and help with cooking while other students only stay for part of the process, or even create their own learning opportunities by doing something such as, using letter-sounds and familiar words to write their own version of our recipe. Many different curriculum areas are addressed — from Oral Language to Math (Measurement) and Science (Safe Use of Tools), plus Language (Reading and Writing) — during these cooking activities, and we always make items that align with our Board’s Nutritional Policy (Health).
For months, we were the ones doing all of the work preparing for these weekly cooking days. One morning, as my partner and I were discussing an upcoming Food Friday, we thought that it would be great if parents would share favourite recipes that we could use each week. We wrote a note and asked parents to send in recipes. A couple of parents decided to send in food items instead, and one parent even provided us with the ingredients to make a favourite dish in the classroom. That’s when we modified our idea. Why not invite the parents in to cook with us? Parents could give us the recipe and list of ingredients, and we would purchase the items for the classroom. Then they could come in and help lead the small group cooking activity. We sent out a hard copy of this note and posted it on our class blog. For a while we didn’t hear from anyone, but then a mom spoke to us about coming in to cook.
A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on
She came in on Friday. It was incredible! The mom decided to make a Chicken Noodle Soup with us, and since we have some students that don’t eat chicken, we helped her modify the recipe, so that we could make two different versions for everyone to enjoy. The children helped cut up the vegetables and fill the pots with water, and then they watched the soup cook. The mom shared with us some great words of wisdom about cooking, and the value of being in a “happy mood” when cooking because our “feelings come out in the food that we make.” We then gathered together in the classroom to eat our soup: a great reminder that food brings us together socially and provides such wonderful opportunities to talk and listen to each other.
We really can’t thank this mother enough for all of the time she spent preparing and organizing things for this cooking activity, and then teaching all of us how to make this excellent dish. We hope that other parents will consider coming in now as well, for, as Aaron Puley (our K-12 School Climate Consultant) shares in his tweet yesterday,
Wow. This is a great example of authentic parent engagement! Food and conversation is such a pivotal piece of culture as well. @avivaloca
— Aaron Puley (@bloggucation) February 12, 2016
This whole experience makes me wonder if there are other ways to engage parents in the classroom. Katie Muhtaris, a teacher and instructional coach in Chicago, sums up my thoughts well in her tweet.
Love this. Upping family engagement with digital tools gr8 but don't forget about this piece too. https://t.co/Vzl2JsfiPy
— Katie Muhtaris (@KatieMuhtaris) February 12, 2016
I love technology, but there’s something special about this face-to-face time with parents. When parents can also share a part of themselves — important aspects of their families and lives — with the class, that’s even more powerful. I can’t help but think about our school’s focus on Indicator 4.4: “Learning is deepened through authentic, relevant and meaningful student inquiry.” For inquiry to happen, students need schema (background knowledge). Do we build this schema by creating different experiences for students, including the powerful ones that can happen with the help of our parents? What do you think? How can we create more of these experiences? Friday, for me, was definitely about more than just cooking some chicken noodle soup.