The sounds of eating

Posted on June 7, 2012 by Sonoma Valley Sun

By Meg McNichol | Special to the Sun

Six months ago, while eating lunch with the preschool class, a three-year-old girl produced an enormous tortilla chip and took a bite. Both she and I were surprised and amused with the loudness of its crunch. I said, “Lila, please do that again.” She took another bite, produced another loud crunch and the rest of the table turned their attention to the chip. Then each child selected a food item from his or her lunch and tested the acoustics of the food. Not only was I amazed at how organically the children organized the testing process on their own – each child was accorded a turn by the group – but I was also amazed at how the children classified the sound of each food without much prompting from me. Foods made a loud crunch, a quiet crunch or a quiet chew.

This discovery was the beginning of a classification process and a tasting project that continues today. With each lunch and every new food, we listen for a crunch or a chew. Once I sat with a crying child who missed his dad and didn’t want to eat his lunch. After talking about how sad he felt and how much his dad loved him, I asked if he thought there might be a loud crunch in his lunch. In between sobs he found an apple slice and tested it. Then he ate the rest of his lunch, asking me to predict what sound each item would make. Then he said, “I’m happy again.”

After the teachers in the classroom had spent several weeks observing this lunchtime activity, they constructed a more formal project. For a week they offered children different foods to taste and categorize according to sound. Then they recorded the children’s responses. The children tested celery (“too loud”), apples (“a crunch”), applesauce (“very quiet chew”), carrots (“Ouch!”), steamed carrots (“soft chew”) and more (bananas, raisins, strawberries, avocado, etc.). We could have done this for months and are considering having a food tasting day every month in order to introduce new, healthy foods. With the prevalence of over-processed, sugary and/or salty, fat laden foods that I see every day in children’s lunch boxes, I think the kids have found a great way to experience food that is good for them.

There are so many wonderful things that have come from this child-generated idea. It really exemplifies the strength of an emergent curriculum, meaning the learning that is generated by the learner’s interests. It can be extended in many different directions including talking about colors and shapes of food, which teeth are used in biting and chewing, what happens when we eat with our mouths closed as opposed to open, what foods babies can eat, etc. Children are so adept at showing us how to nurture them. We just need the time and space to create these opportunities.

Recently Lila dictated her own short story. Included in the tale was this sentence: “The dragon ate the piggies. They made a quiet crunch.”

Meg McNichol is the director of Old Adobe School, a local preschool, prekindergarten and childcare center. She has been working in early childhood education for over 20 years. She has a B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, an early childhood/elementary teaching credential from Rosemont College and a Site Supervisor certification from California.

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