Alice Waters (restaurateur, author, slow-food advocate) [http://www.chezpanisse.com/about/alice-waters/] was speaking in Charlotte, NC in the fall of 2007. She was promoting the slow-food movement. Before her talk I approached her as she was finishing up her book signing. I wanted to let her know about the developing Montessori Middle School movement, which generally places a lot of emphasis on land-based work. This tends to include at minimum some gardening. She jumped in and said that “Montessori schools have the benefit of already having a philosophy that makes integrating slow-food, or “edible schoolyard” -type work, very easy”.
I had known that Alice had been a Montessori teacher in the Berkeley area back in the mid-60s prior to visiting France and discovering FOOD. She appreciated the learning-by-doing approach and ended up seeing this as critical if children are to understand where food comes from and how to connect with it. They need to touch it, see where and how it grows and tend to it with their own hands. When you get involved physically and personally you connect, you become vested: values are created.
So Alice ended up creating something she called “The Edible Schoolyard” (if you’re not familiar, google it!). You’ll see that it’s all learning by doing. When her daughter began attending Yale a few years ago, Alice went to speak to the administration to create a garden at Yale to supply vegetables for the cafeteria because she saw the food being served there and was aghast.
We can apply the learning-by-doing approach in so many ways. The bottom line is that IT WORKS because that’s simply how people learn. This isn’t controversial. It’s not a theory. There’s no denying that “you learn what you do and can’t learn what you DON’T do”. And let’s keep in mind that remembering is not learning, right? Learning is meaning and understanding; it’s connecting. And sometimes it leads to creating values.
Find ways to help children DO. The rest will take care of itself.