For my latest summer reading club meeting for children in grades 3, 4 & 5, I decided to choose a popular topic... food!
We started broadly, filling out the food pyramid with the basic food groups. We discussed the meaning behind the food phrases, "You are what you eat," and, "Don't play with your food!"
Which we of course promptly disobeyed by playing a guessing game involving fruits and vegetables. Children volunteered to come to the front of the room and once blindfolded, had to guess which fruit and vegetable was placed in their hands. At the market earlier I picked up some easy to guess options like an apple, pear, potato and cucumber, as well as some trickier varieties like a fig, pomegranate, ginger and an artichoke.
Continuing on the sensory journey, each table of children next received a tray of numbered cups, topped in aluminum foil with small holes poked through. They took turns smelling each cup and contemplating the source of each smell among their group. Most of the items I brought from home, like vanilla, lemon, vinegar, fresh mint, garlic and a banana.
Next came dessert: chocolate, to be exact. Starting by asking where chocolate comes from, I read aloud a brief non-fiction title with informative photographs, From Cocoa Bean to Chocolate by Robin Nelson.
Additionally there are many popular stories about chocolate like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling and Chocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith. I gave a brief booktalk on each, and shared a short selection from Charlie as it provided the perfect transition to our next activity. In the passage, taken from the first chapter of the book, it describes Charlie's poor family who, besides having a terribly cramped bed situation, often went hungry. The one thing Charlie longed for more than anything else was chocolate: he ate it only once a year, on his birthday, when he received one small chocolate bar that he would make last for more than a month.
After all this talk about chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, the natural progression was to finally eat some. But hold on a minute there! We weren't just going to eat chocolate... we were going to SAVOR chocolate. Each child chose from a selection of mini candy bars, and we all opened them at the same time. Once opened, we smelled the chocolate for a few moments and thought about how it felt to the touch. Finally, we took a bite -- but just a small one. We kept it in our mouths for a few seconds, considering how it felt and tasted while on the tongue. After this group process, children were invited to begin eating the chocolate, with an emphasis on taking as many bites as possible to finish the bar. The competitive encouragement worked, with a range from 19 to 80 bites!
And lastly, sweet met salty in our edible craft conclusion of magic wands. Take one long pretzel rod, spread chocolate frosting on the top half, and finish with a generous topping of sprinkles. Eat and enjoy!
These activities lasted about an hour, and the total cost was only $25 for 35 children. There are so many other food related programming possibilities. You could offer more chocolate tastings (different types of candy bars, white versus milk versus dark), even incorporating math and science concepts. Or go more crafty, making colorful Fruit Loop paintings.
Saxton Freymann's many books offer great inspiration as he captures such lifelike, convincing expressions using all kinds of fruits and vegetables. It would be fun to purchase a variety of foods and let the kids experiment.
For younger audiences, We Are What We Eat by Sally Smallwood has fun, playful photographs that create a food character. Whenever parents ask me for simple books about fruits and vegetables, I hand them this along with Eating the Alphabet: Fruits & Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert.
A final word about safety. I always ask whether anyone has food allergies before passing out anything edible. Also check to see whether your workplace has any specific regulations regarding foods; for example, in my library we must only use pre-packaged items purchased from a store to avoid any possible contamination.