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The Sweet Side of Project Work

In the Reggio Emilia philosophy, there are two major principles woven together: Emergent Curriculum and Project Approach. The teacher’s role in an Emergent Curriculum classroom is to observe the curiosities of children and guide them using projects inspired by the children's interests. Project Approach is an in-depth study of concepts and ideas based on information gathered from children’s interests. Teachers act as facilitators helping children decide the direction for their project, how to represent what they learn, and what materials are needed for the final product. At Raintree, our students are the drivers, our teachers are the vehicles, and projects are the roads that are taken.

In the beginning months of preschool, my class, The Big and Little Buttons, displayed a great interest in the culinary world. Our students were often found crafting a chocolate dessert or complex pasta dish in our outdoor mud kitchen. They loved to serve said creations to their beloved grownups who were more than delighted to take a large, pretend chomp of their delicious meal. Through their play, our students decided that our fall semester project would be baking and cooking. 

It was up to my co-teacher and I to plan provocations and stir up (sorry, had to) activities relevant to these intrigues. Our goal for the fall of 2023 semester was to infuse literacy, play, science, music, art, and more into the baking project. Community chefs were brought into the class to share knowledge. Baking stories and children’s cookbooks were checked out from the library for further research. Pots and pans were placed on classroom shelves to further inspire play. Children were given various food ingredients to “cook” with. Noodles, rice, and glue were provided as an art invitation. Musical instruments were made out of sprinkles and jars.

Often called “the third teacher” within the Reggio Emilia approach, the environment, whether in the classroom, on the playscape, or in our 11-acre forest, is another major facet of the Raintree experience. What better way to learn about baking than at a bakery? We trekked to our local bakery to tour and immerse ourselves in the world of ovens, flour, and cupcakes. The children were able to see various baking machines and tools and use piping bags to design their own cupcakes.

After investigating the many different facets of the culinary arts, the students were ready to try their hand at the real thing. We decided to practice by making something that did not require an oven. After each student casted their vote, we had a winner: oreo puppy chow! When making this recipe, we were able to practice measuring, scooping, and most importantly, following a recipe.

Finally, the kids decided to share their learning and confectionery creations with our school community. We threw a delightful party for our families, baked cakes and cupcakes for our loved ones, sang a baking song, and played Pin-the Sprinkle on the Cupcake. 

Project culminations are a beautiful way to showcase the acquisition of new skills and make learning visible to parents. However, the most meaningful part of a culmination is watching the children overflowing with pride as they see their thoughts and ideas brought to life. It is in these moments that our students have the opportunity to step back, look at all they have accomplished, and truly know that their ideas matter. 

By: Ashley Hummert


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