One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job as a non-formal environmental educator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority is the opportunity to lead students visiting our recycling center and landfill for a tour in educational activities that they normally wouldn’t do at school. Lessons about the carrying capacity of a habitat, the lifecycle of a tree, or those about identifying the right things to recycle are disguised as fun games. Usually, the games are so entertaining that students don’t realize they’re learning until the game is over.
As fun as the recycling relay race and other games are the most memorable lessons tend to be the ones with an edible component. Yes, you read that right – edible. I have found that adding an edible component to an otherwise stale lesson enriches a student’s educational experience. When there’s food involved a two-dimensional lesson printed on a worksheet can become a three-dimensional object that students can touch, move, see, smell, and - if the teacher allows – eat.
Edible educational exercises tend to be multi-sensory experiences that are memorable, different, fun, delicious, creative, adaptable, and engaging. Edible lessons are available on almost any subject and are adaptable for most grade levels. Lower elementary students may enjoy making an edible color wheel to learn about primary and secondary colors. Middle school aged students could make a model of a biological cell for a science class project.
The main thing these lessons have in common is that one or more of the components is a food item that represents an item or concept in a lesson. For example, in math students may use M&Ms candies to learn concepts like estimation, sorting, graphing, counting, fair shares, and finding averages. Students will use their notebook paper or worksheets, but instead of counting with their hands they will be counting the individual candy pieces to help them solve problems.
Food items for lessons can be fresh too. A lesson called “Eat the Rainbow” brings the school garden indoors by arranging colorful fruits or vegetables on a serving tray in the shape of a rainbow for students to eat. A rainbow made of fruit could include strawberries, oranges, pineapple, kiwi, blueberries, and red grapes. Each fruit represents a color of the rainbow from red to violet. This is a creative way to present fruit to kids and encourage them to eat different colors of fruits to stay healthy.
Students in science class may learn the different phases of the moon using Oreo cookies. For this activity divide students into groups of 2 or 3. Each group needs eight cookies, a butter knife, paper towel or plate, and a chart showing the phases of the moon. Instruct students to carefully separate the cookies, making sure one side has all the frosting and the other has none.
Based on the diagram carefully scrape away the white filling to represent the shapes of each phase of the moon. Or carefully cut the half of the cookie with no filling to represent the phases and place that on top of the side with filling. What better way to remember what a waxing crescent moon looks like than to make it yourself?
During a facility tour, I’ve lead students in making an edible aquifer which is a model of ground water. Many students in the area use well water at home making this an important educational exercise to understand how pollution can infiltrate water sources underground. There’s nothing like seeing pollution (represented by red cake sprinkles), soak through the layers of soil and clay (crushed cereal and ice cream), to reach the drinking water trapped below. Making a functional model of ground water helps students take a concept described in a textbook and turns it into a tangible experience that is memorable.
The variety of edible lessons is astounding. From models of the layers of soil to models of a DNA molecule, there’s an activity to match what students are currently studying. With so many schools focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) lessons now, edibles are a natural fit. Last year I even introduced an edible landfill model activity so students can learn how a modern day landfill is constructed.
To find instructions for the edible aquifer and over a hundred other edible educational activities visit my edible education board online at pinterest.com/lizswafford/edible-lessons-for-kids. For more details about facility tours and resources for environmental education call me at 706-278-5001.