• Staci Hemesath, RDN, LD

Growing the Seeds of Literacy Through Farm to Table

In the world of Early Childhood, it has long been understood that the best way for a young child to learn about something is to experience it many times, in many ways. Not only is it important to read, read, read to children to develop literacy skills, but books can also help them make connections between farm to table.

Some basic early literacy skills for young children include:

  • Alphabet Knowledge

  • Background Knowledge

  • Book Knowledge and Concepts of Print

  • Early Writing

  • Oral Language and Vocabulary

  • Phonological Awareness

Because eating is a basic need, it is an important part of any society. Meals are a way we show our culture. Food is included in most celebrations. We are comforted by our favorite dish as children, and we all have that one thing we cannot stand to eat, even as adults. Food to young children is real and it is tangible. Because of this, children love to learn where their food is coming from, and learn about how it is grown. They can relate to these stories and are eager to expand their knowledge and share the personal experiences they have had with food.

Early literacy strategies for young children are simple: read, talk, play, sing, and write. Using before, during, and after strategies with books can also help scaffold a child’s learning and help them make connections between the book’s subject manner and their daily lives. It’s simple and you can start before you ever read the book. Start by reading the book’s title, author, and illustrator to the children. Then, ask the child to predict what they think might happen in the story. Explain new words the children may hear. Give them a reason to listen, or share a personal experience related to the story. Young children are interested in your life because you are an important part of theirs!

Be aware anytime you are reading about the subject matter of food, that many young children have experienced food insecurity and the thought of “playing” with food may be upsetting to them. This is why it is not a best practice to use rice or beans in a sensory table. Sometimes children have allergies, medical conditions, religious or cultural food restrictions that may be different from other children. Your choice of stories can help individual children in your care feel validated and a sense of belonging. All children love to hear stories about the farming, cultural celebrations, and struggles of food production from their own communities.

While reading the story, it is important to point to pictures and important words. Ask the children to again predict what might happen. Pause and take time to answer questions. Once you have finished the book, it is now time to reflect with the children. Ask guided story questions, and let the children help you complete sentences from the book. Provide opportunities for the children to retell the story in the classroom or at home. Encourage them to act out the story, and provide props for them to do so. Re-visit the story often, and incorporate it into other activities throughout the coming weeks. One story can provide the basis for many activities such as dramatic play, science experiments, field trips, sensory experiences, and cooking!

There are hundreds of wonderful Farm to ECE books for children. Here are just a few:

  • Rainbow Stew by Cathryn Falwell

  • Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong

  • Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong

  • What Shall I Make? by Nandini Iyer

  • The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin

  • Community Soup by Alma Fullerton

  • Arturo and the Bienvenido Feast Hardcover by Anne Broyles

  • Green Green: A Community Gardening Story by Marie Lamba

  • What's in the Garden? by Marianne Berkes

  • Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn

  • Everybody Bakes Bread by Norah Dooley

  • Kitchen Dance by Maurie J. Manning

  • Plants Feed Me by Lizzy Rockwell

  • Full, Full, Full of Love by Trish Cooke

  • Before We Eat: From Farm to Table by Pat Brisson

Introducing a new book on a weekly basis which covers farm to table concepts such as gardening, farms, cooking, family meals, farmers markets, shopping for food, etc. can help you grow the seeds of literacy in your own home or classroom.

A note about the author: Elizabeth Vitiritto has a bachelor’s in human services with an early childhood emphasis. She has almost 20 years’ experience working in Early Childhood programs. When not working, her hobbies include enjoying nature and caring for her children, Cheryl, Freeman, and Piper, and her fur children Scrappy, Max & Sorcha.

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