By Guest Blogger, Shannon Blair
Pandemic parenting is wrought with frustration and anxiety. Families operate in closer quarters than ever. We worry our children will be “behind” when they return. If they return. While my own fears over summer slump have been growing, so have blueberries. In fact, July is National Blueberry Month. And guess what? Blueberry picking can be a practical (and delicious!) avenue to math and reading enrichment.
Elementary-aged children are especially prone to learning loss over summer break, explains Scholastic.com, citing Harvard assistant professor of education Dr. James Kim who put it this way: “In general, kids learn a lot more in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade than kids in middle school or high school, because learning follows a curve where it’s accelerated early in life and then plateaus. Things like decoding, letter knowledge, and word reading skills are very susceptible to decay without frequent practice, as are math facts like addition and subtraction.”
So how can berry picking help?
Math: Blueberries can function as manipulatives for counting and problem solving games. Recipes inherently involve calculations with multiplication, division, and fractions. I’ve shared below some of our berry favorites (pun intended).
Reading: Scholastic.com adds, “Experts have found that novelty stimulates the brain and promotes learning. Visiting a historic site or even simply reading together at the park can help your child get more excited about reading and learning. You can also visit a certain location inspired by the books you read together.” We had never been blueberry picking, so this was definitely an adventure for us. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library also has a host of good reads we could have paired with the field trip (and logged toward the library’s Summer Break Challenge). Some of interest include a coming of age novel for grades 4-7 titled The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose & Me. Kylie Jean Blueberry Queen and Blueberries for the Queen make good choices for younger readers.
A friend recommended The Ivy Place where you can pick your own, so off to the farm we went…
It was an easy drive (approximately 30 minutes from south Charlotte), and we experienced the fun of crossing the border into South Carolina. Hey, cheap thrills count during a quarantine season. When we finished picking and hiking around 2 hours later, we were wiped but happy–and certainly learned a lot. School was out-side for summer on this day, and we practiced even more than just math and reading.
PE: Berry picking requires a lot of bending, pulling, lifting, and endurance. It encourages kids to focus and use fine motor skills too.
Science: This family-operated farm meant we had a chance to chat with its farmer, Terry Graham. He was kind and generous with my children’s questions about growing our own plants and wildlife considerations. We also spotted several grasshoppers as big as birds. One even stowed away to sneak home with us on a sunflower leaf.
Health/Character Ed: You can discuss the nutritional quality of the blueberry, known as a superfood for rich antioxidant value. Without realizing it, we practiced mindfulness while tasting the fruit and handpicking the most vibrant, unique sunflowers and ripe tomatoes. We honed soft skills like teamwork, persistence, and resilience. It was hot out there, but we worked together to collect almost 5 pounds of blueberries, 4 pounds of blackberries, a bucket of tomatoes, and a full bouquet. We faced down the challenge of an expansive field until we reached the end and even came together to handle the unexpected calmly when it occurred (a bee sting in the flower patch).
Whether it’s in the great outdoors or simply at home, let’s vow as parents to control what we can and let go of the rest. Let’s look for easy, everyday learning opportunities–knowing our first job is to be our children’s best parents rather than their school teachers. News of school will eventually come, and we will adapt just like we did in March.
Let’s just try to enjoy the pleasures of summer and keep our children from becoming little cave people. And above all, let’s never underestimate the restorative power of a fresh tomato sandwich.
Book a spot at the Ivy Place here.
Tips if you go:
Pack hats, light-colored clothing, portable spray fans, plenty of cold water, and sunscreen (as well as epi pen if applicable). Shoot for the earliest and latest time slots when heat may be less intense.
This recipe was wonderful! We will be making these again. Thanks, Sally! One Word: Yum.
Berry Banana Walnut Bread (Adapted from the red and white Better Homes CookBook)
For 2 loaves:
1) Combine dry ingredients: 1 ½ C flour, 1 ½ C wheat flour, 1 ½ t cinnamon, 1 t baking soda, ½ t nutmeg, and ½ t salt.
2) Combine wet ingredients: 2 beaten eggs, 1 C sugar, 1 C ripe mashed banana, ½ C applesauce.
3) Stir together until moistened. Fold in 2 C whole berries and 2 C chopped walnuts.
4) Bake in loaf pans at 350 for 1 hour. Check for doneness with a toothpick.
1) Puree 3 C blackberries (or other berries or combo) with 3 T honey.
2) Pour onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, trimming edges to avoid overhang.
3) Spread as thinly and evenly as possible.
4) Bake at 170 until tacky but no longer wet, typically between 6-8 hours.
5) Cool and slice into 10-12 strips. Roll up and enjoy like the good ol’ days!
Shannon Blair is wife to Sam and mom to Jay (10), Nora (7), and Tater (78 in dog years). When not teaching writing at Central Piedmont Community College, she can be found getting muddy in the garden, wreaking havoc in the kitchen, running and then un-running with a local craft brew, struggling to achieve Crow pose, reading, or trying to figure out which story to tell next. Stop on by and see how she can help you tell your stories too at pinkpenwriting.com.