The "All about Potatoes" Project

A Project by Three- to Five-Year-Old Children at Bing Nursery School, Stanford University, Stanford, California

Length of project: 6 weeks
Teachers:  Jane Farish, Mark Mabry

Phase One—Beginning the Project

Because the chant, "One potato, two potato," fascinated children and kept popping up spontaneously, we brought a bag of potatoes to school. Children's interest and enthusiasm in handling, sorting, and counting these potatoes led to this project. As a "provocation" we set out baskets of different varieties of potatoes. We webbed possibilities and brainstormed questions to generate discussions with children about their firsthand experiences eating, growing, and cooking potatoes. Gathering this information in small group conversations, we recorded children's ideas and formulated questions. We anticipated the project would build on previous gardening and cooking experiences to encourage the development of new skills and knowledge, and would provide opportunities for rich dramatic play and parent involvement.

Phase Two—Developing the Project

"Are potatoes the same color inside and out?"

Interest in the names of different varieties was the driving force in dissecting potatoes. The investigation expanded to weighing. Data were recorded.

"Do all kinds of potato taste the same?"

For two weeks children tested predictions and hypotheses, selecting potatoes to cook. Some were scrubbed and baked, some cooked and mashed. All were tasted and compared at snack time. An outcome was mashed potatoes mixing red, purple, and gold potatoes. Preferences were charted.

"What can you make with potatoes?"

Answers came from people and books. Visiting experts, including parents, made potato dishes with children and answered questions. Children spontaneously made potato soup in the play kitchen and announced a restaurant. They wrote a menu of "potato items." Energy built as this play continued, involving more children. We investigated soup recipes and made potato and tomato soup.

"How do potatoes grow?"

Two children knew that potatoes grew underground and took the initiative in planting seed potatoes and old potatoes that were sprouting. A group took ownership of daily watering.

Children represented new knowledge through drawings, paintings, collage, poetry, chants echoing "One potato, two potato," and stories inspired by repeated readings and discussions of storybooks about potatoes and root vegetables (e.g., The Turnip).

Phase Three—Concluding the Project

"Let's make baked potatoes again." Revisiting this earlier experience made a logical conclusion to the investigation. Children took charge of cooking for the week, applying their knowledge scrubbing potatoes, wrapping them, and timing the baking in toaster ovens in the classroom. Teachers suggested gathering accumulated work and information. Over several days a group collaborated with a teacher in using the computer, school copier, and staplers to make recipe books to take home. In June, there was a further "culminating event" when children harvested and cooked the potatoes they had grown. Deep interest in cooking and gardening developed. Children developed and applied planning skills; gained skills in weighing, counting, classifying, and comparing; and created a wealth of stories, rhymes, and chants.

Comments

This project brought to mind Lilian Katz's statement: "A good project unpacks familiar things and deepens our appreciation of them." The interest and enthusiasm for this project was compelling. It was a very satisfying investigation because it integrated all curricula areas and was inclusive, appealing to boys and girls and mixed ages. We were especially pleased by the way in which this concept of exploring an everyday object connected school with children's home life. Parents reported their children's interest in potatoes at home and on trips to the store, and it fostered parent interest and involvement in the classroom.

playing with potatoes              what kind of potato do you like?


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