• Feature
Kindergartners Explore Kitchens Using Project Approach
Brenda Funk, Contributing Writer

Last year was especially exciting for the kindergartners as they enjoyed eating lunch in the beautiful Mathews Dining Hall daily. While sitting in the bright, airy, and cheerful hall, the students began noticing exciting activities going on in the kitchen—chefs using large shiny appliances, a cool conveyer belt for the dishwasher, fun tools and utensils, and delicious aromas coming from the ovens and stoves. This curiosity led to many conversations and questions about the kitchen, which inspired them to choose “Kitchens” as their spring Project Approach topic of the year.

The Project Approach, implemented in both Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten, is a research-based program where children participate in an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic. Through this investigation, students are challenged to apply their skills, knowledge, and strategies to research their topic and share their findings.

K Kitchen project

Before their investigation, the kindergartners asked questions such as: What appliances cook food? How does the dishwasher work in the dining hall? How is the dining hall kitchen different and the same as my kitchen at home? What do kitchens look like around the world? And how is food kept cold and hot? These questions offered excellent jumping points into their work.

To begin the project, kindergartners took an exciting tour of the Mater Center kitchen to observe the equipment and learn about the roles of the kitchen staff. They then used their artistic skills to create an observational drawing of a piece of kitchen equipment that sparked their interest, followed by an exciting kitchen-centered activity—baking cookies!

Field-site visits are excellent ways for children to thoroughly investigate a topic and meet members of the community who are professional subject-matter experts. Thanks to the graciousness of the Movsessian family, the kindergartners received a behind-the-scenes tour of their Classic Bakery in Gaithersburg, which specializes in Middle Eastern and Eastern European baked goods. After the tour, they decorated cupcakes with the delicious icing made right at the bakery.

Experts also visited the classroom throughout the semester. Lower School French Teacher Christine Watkins made crepes with the class; Middle School Religion Teacher Lauren Winkler showed the kindergartners how an old-fashioned apple peeler works; Middle School English/Language Arts Teacher Katrina Newman taught the students about her bakery business while making delicious candy pretzel rods with the students; and, Kindergarten Teacher Kathryn Inch ’05 demonstrated the benefits of an air fryer by showing the kindergartners how to make french fries.

K Kitchen project

Project Work includes hands-on activities, investigations, and explorations that build interdisciplinary skills, including literacy, numeracy, science, art, and social studies. Literacy skills were built upon by creating a class web, where students updated their project findings by using newly learned vocabulary terms for kitchen appliances, tools, and professions. Literacy was also reinforced when students were tasked with writing personal stories about kitchens. Researching kitchen tools used worldwide expanded their knowledge of other countries and cultures. And, when Lower School Science Specialist Patricia Fort invited the students to the STEM classroom to make ice cream, they were introduced to fascinating scientific findings such as freezing and melting points and the mechanisms of how refrigerators keep food cool.

Project Work is creative and fun! When tasked with building model kitchen tools and appliances, the children eagerly worked with Lower School Art Teacher Maureen O’Connell to sketch drafts of their planned project, mold them out of clay or build them out of cardboard, and then paint their creations, resulting in miniature realistic items one would find in a kitchen.

Perhaps the most significant life lesson learned through Project Work is the satisfaction felt when one prepares, plans, creates, builds, and completes a task. Parent Suzan Heshmati witnessed her daughter Ellia’s thrill at participating in Project Work throughout the semester. “Ellia has learned so many skills through this process,” said Mrs. Heshmati. “Aside from the content she explored, she learned about the research process, data collection, analysis, and, most importantly for me, collaboration. She’s definitely excited about learning, and that is what we wanted her to take away from her Kindergarten experience.”

K kitchen project

The final phase of every project is for students to share what they have learned with others. Parents and other members of the Stone Ridge community were invited to their classrooms to receive a tour of their completed Project Work. Of her experience at the culmination, Mrs. Heshmati and her husband were incredibly impressed with the students’ work. “The culmination was such a beautiful experience as a parent,” she said. “From the onset, Ellia took on a leadership role, guiding us through the process of what she’s learned and describing what she’s made. Obviously, we are proud of the work she’s accomplished, but most importantly, she’s proud of herself! She believes she is an expert in kitchens!”

Project Work is transformational, teaching children skills they will use well beyond Kindergarten while reinforcing Goal IV of Sacred Heart education (the building of community as a Christian value), demonstrating the importance of community and collaboration. “I am amazed at how much of the information that Ellia learned throughout the project she has retained and recalled months later, well into the summer,” said Mrs. Heshmati. “She has been transferring her classroom learning to her life experiences. We notice this at restaurants with open kitchens or when we’re cooking together at home, and she asks for specific tools. Having toured the Stone Ridge kitchen, she shared how great it was to have observed the staff who she sees at lunch daily behind the scenes using very large equipment to prepare food for the students. What an excellent demonstration of how much work goes into caring for our community and how essential the kitchen and staff are to nurturing students. As a parent, you want to teach these somewhat abstract concepts to your child, and they’re organically built into this real-world model of learning.” ❤