The next instalment of our activities with herbs was pizza with rosemary topping – pizza bianca al rosmarino.
I like to cook with yeast with my classes. It is such as great science experience, seeing the dough rise. The kids can knead the dough as much as they like – and that is a pleasure in itself.
This is a simple dough of granulated yeast, olive oil, strong white flour, salt and water. It is called pizza bianca (white pizza) because it is made without tomato. The topping is rosemary, salt and olive oil.
Our classes are less than 4 hours at the moment, and it can be hard to complete a complex activity in a day. So for this, we made the dough during our afternoon session, and then made up the pizzette the next morning. I also find it good cooking with yeast in winter in our centre, because we have heating in the floor. We can put the dough on the floor, and be sure it will rise.
We gave each child a piece of dough to work, flatten into a pizza shape, sprinkle with salt and rosemary, and drizzle with oil. We put each of them on a separate piece of baking paper, and wrote the child’s name in pencil.
We cooked it in a hot oven, and the children ate them for lunch.
Our interest in rosemary got us thinking about spices in general.
We removed all the pine cones and insects and other things that had been our nature table, and replaced them with herbs and spices.
We harvested fresh herbs from the garden. We raided the centre kitchen for dried herbs and spices, then brought some from home, and finally went to the supermarket and stocked up.
We tried to include as many as possible of the herbs and spices in two forms, placed together for comparison. Fresh and dried herbs. Whole and ground spices.
At first we left the table without comment. Children came singly or in small groups and explored the colourful powders and interesting shapes. They soon started to sniff them as they noticed the aromas.
When we joined them to talk about the display, they made comments like
‘That smells like gingerbread.’
‘My Mum puts that on my porridge.’
They had differences of opinion about which ones smell good and which ones don’t.
At mat time, we talked about the display, and pointed out the different states and types. Being an Italian class, we also introduced the names of some herbs and spices in Italian (though we did not attempt to turn it into a vocabulary memorisation exercise). We discussed how to use them. We passed them around and smelt them. We talked about which parts of the plants they come from.
When we went outside, some children were interested in seeing the living plants in the garden.
We have kept the display out for several weeks now. We don’t put out all of them all the time. We swap them around a bit. Sometimes the aroma of one or another gets stronger – especially when something gets spilt as happens from time to time. We have added screw top jars so the children can choose individual spices to smell. (Just the commercial ones they are sold in.)
Spices are a treat for the senses – interesting to look at, rich in colour, aroma and flavour. We are also finding them a rich vein of ideas for learning activities.
Our Biscotti al Rosmarino grew out of our rosemary play dough.
Actually, I need to go back a little further. I wanted to attract the children’s attention to the rosemary in our kindergarten garden. I remembered seeing posts on using aromas in play dough, so I decided to give rosemary play dough a whirl.
We took a couple of children out to the garden to collect the rosemary, then sat a small group down to cut it up. The performance of our Kiddie Kutter knives was disappointing. We found that scissors worked better.
My co-educator took the lead in making the play dough with the children, adding the rosemary, and taking the colour from its flowers rather than the leaves.
The play dough has interesting flecks of green that add texture and visual difference. It does not smell particularly strong at first, but the aroma emerges more as it warms up while you work it.
The pretty terracotta pot turned out not to work very well. The children stuffed it full of play dough when then dried quickly to the thirsty unglazed pot and was extremely difficult to get out again.
But it was the conversation while playing with the fresh warm dough that turned out to be really productive. They chatted about what rosemary is and what you can use it for, and came up with the idea of making some biscuits.
We made ‘biscotti al rosmarino’ at kinder this week.
We asked the children to divide into two groups for this experience. They divided into two even groups themselves. At first the groups were 5 and 10. I was interested to see how they spontaneously started to volunteer to wait until tomorrow, until the groups were fairly even.
First they went out and collected some rosemary from the garden. The children cut up the rosemary with scissors. They combined the ingredients, taking turns to add and stir. Each child got a small amount of dough to roll into a ball. They pressed them down gently on the tray to flatten them.
The cooked biscuits filled our room with the scent of rosemary.
We ate some biscuits during class. Each child had to ask “Posso avere un biscotto al rosmarino.” We practised how to say it. They could not have a biscuit unless they asked for it in Italian. All the children did it.
There were plenty of biscuits. At home time, we offered a biscuit to the people who came to pick us up. The children had to say: “Vuoi un biscotto al rosmarino?” Most of them did that too.
And the biscuits were yum.
Melt butter. Cut rosemary fine. Combine flour and sugar, then add melted butter and eggs. Blend into a workable dough. Form into small balls, then flatten onto a baking tray covered with baking paper. Cook at 180° until the colour starts to change.
I promised myself this school year I would live by the mantra ‘no such thing as bad weather’. We would spend as much time as possible outside. We would let the children go outside in all weathers. We would let them be the judge of when they wanted to be outside or in.
This week was the first real test of our resolve.
We had no horrid heat in the early weeks of the year. Even with our late afternoon timetable, the summer classes enjoyed balmy days.
This week, after Samhain, as the leaves fell from the trees, a cold wind blew in from Antarctica. Temperatures fell. And today it rained. And rained and rained.
We did not push the kids to go out. We are starting inside. When the first child asks to go out, one of us goes to0, and a few (most) usually follow.
Today, they were not asking. We were all inside for a long time.
But eventually someone did want to go out. So we found jackets and coats and gumboots. A lot were not very well equipped. They had coats, but not raincoats. They had no gumboots. But it was not really all that cold. The rain was steady, but light. Inside was warm and dry, and everyone had a change of clothes.
Nothing to be afraid of.
I was just a little worried about their shoes. There were puddles. Muddy ones. I could change their pants, but I could not do anything to fix wet shoes. So we decided that people who wanted to walk in the puddles had to take their shoes and socks off first.
Most of the children gave it a go. Even one who had gumboots. Then they dried their feet and put their shoes back on.
I just wish we had worked out a system for recognising socks before we let the children strip them off.
We are determined to embrace the view that there is no such thing as bad weather.
All weather is good weather, and we plan to be out in it.
Last week, our resolve was tested.
On our first day, it was 36°. That is pretty hot.
But the garden is shady, and we were ok. We let the children choose whether to be in or out, and most of them chose to be out.
The next day, it rained.
We let the children decide whether to be in or out, and most of them chose to go in. Two hardy souls stayed out. We talked about where the rain came from.
Then there was thunder. I decided discretion was the better part of valour and we went inside.
We did not turn the lights on, even when the sky filled with dark grey clouds and it got really dark.
We watched the rain spatter the windows, and pour over the gutters.
One of my goals this year is to give the children as much access as possible to outdoor play.
Our outdoor play area is a rich play space that offers a lot. However, there are some activities that seem naturally to belong indoors. Painting and drawing and collage and other forms of artistic expression are more often indoor activities. Finding outlets for creative expression in outdoor play requires some thought.
Painting with water works as outdoor art.
For children, art is as much, if not more, about the process rather than the product. The process of wielding a brush. The process of making marks.
When children paint with water on a fence they experience: filling the brush; the drips that run down; the feel of the stroke of the brush; the sweep of their arm; the change in colour; seeing where they have left their mark; matching up the strokes to cover an area.
Most of what they can get from painting on paper at an easel they also get from painting water on a fence. They just don’t get the product to take home.
This is ephemeral art.
And that is a good thing.
I was walking home from work one evening when I came across a tree recently cut down by Council workers. When I got home, I grabbed my son, and made him come with me on the way to soccer training. We loaded my car up with these chunks of tree trunk, selecting the ones with the smoothest cut. I dropped the boy off at training, then went and dropped the wood off at kinder.
The next day, when we were playing outside, I got a rake, and a small group of willing helpers, and we set about placing these lovely contorted slices of wood.
Our playground is tending to disappear under tanbark lately. Council delivers more and more every year. We can’t seem to stop them. It is like the encroaching Sahara. We had decided to clear one corner of tanbark, and return it to garden in the hope that the next tanbark delivery would at least cover a reduced area.
Working with the children I raked back the deep layer of tanbark to create a raised edge on one side, and get back down to earth on the other. We placed the pieces of wood along the edge to hold the tanbark back. I let the children tell me in what order to place the pieces and we discussed exactly where to place them, and what orientation was best.
The children immediately saw the potential for stepping stones, so we also tested the distance and level and decided which way up was best underfoot.
By the time we went home, we had built a lovely edge to our tanbark*, and protected a corner of the garden from the encroaching bark.
When we came out to play the next day, I found the stumps covered in glitter and petals. Another class had decided these were fairy stairs, and had added fairy dust and flowers.
I love the contorted shapes of these pieces of wood – it was a bottlebrush tree. I love the rusticity of the bark still on, and the unfinished surface. I had been thinking about what to use for that task. I had looked at various manufactured products – bricks, rubber blocks, rubber strips etc.
These are so much nicer.
*This edge is not part of the softfall area.
Yesterday a friend posted on her facebook status that Grass Flowering Season is ending and Kangaroo Apple Season is about to start.
As I think about how to include indigenous perspectives in my early childhood program next year, I should remember to learn about the seasons. Aboriginal people divide the seasons and mark them by particular natural events – a plant blooming, an insect appearing.
I have already planted some local indigenous grasses at kinder. There is some of this same Slender Spear Grass that grows in my own garden. I find it very beautiful. I love how it waves in the breeze, and catches the sunlight.
When I first went to buy some indigenous grass seedlings, the nursery showed me how the seeds of the spear grasses can be thrown like tiny darts, and will stick. Fun for children. Maybe too challenging for preschoolers – I can try.
My friend said Grass Flowering Season is called Buath Garu (though she did not say in what language). It has warm weather and lots of rain. In Kangaroo Apple Season we expect changeable thundery weather.
I have been seeing water walls crop up here and there on blogs and facebook pages all over the place recently.
They are a wonderful idea. So much learning potential. And so much fun.
This particular one is free standing, and uses lots of funnels and pieces of tube. The tube is slotted through the holes at some points, so the water travels from one side to the other. Flexible ties have been used to attach them to the mesh so it can be rearranged easily, as well as repaired.
Being free standing, it can be moved into the shade, and put away for a while, making it that much more responsive to the needs of the moment. And I can see it could double as a little gate or space divider at other times.
Others I have seen use recycled bottles and junk, so they are an exercise in repurposing as well.
What clever, inventive, energetic, creative people there are in early childhood education.
A water wall is definitely going on my list for next year.