The first mention of ‘education and technology’ tends to bring people out in a rash of raising funds for computers in classrooms, and making sure every child has an iPad at the age of six.
However, there are less high-tech and less expensive ways of going about both parts of the equation. And they might be more enjoyable, in more ways than one.
Small children, in particular, are programmed to learn. They are particularly good at learning by example and by experimentation, which is how and why they learn to walk, talk, and embarrass the daylights out of their parents by parroting phrases that no-one knew they’d heard, at highly inappropriate moments (interesting oaths in front of their grandma and other blush-inducing scenarios will doubtless spring to mind).
So, educating small humans isn’t hard – you actually have to try quite hard to avoid it. And some of the most valuable lessons kids will ever learn include how to cook, and how to grow their own food. Some enlightened schools have already latched onto this idea and are making use of it widely in their whole teaching approach: the EnviroSchools movement is a wonderful illustration, and within that framework, some schools do a spectacular job. One that comes to mind is Rhode St School in Hamilton, where the students, under the inspired leadership of their principal Shane Ngatai, are growing their own food, doing their own cooking and preserving, and building their own ecological island. Taking a leaf out of that book, practical education can be started at home with not much more than a patch of soil and a kitchen stove.
Growing a few fruit and vegetables not only teaches children where food comes from and how to care for plants, it can be used to help them learn to count (“how many seeds shall we put in this tray?”), it can extend their vocabulary (you can even get really technical and teach them that corn is a monocotyledon and beans are dicotyledons – they’ll remember once they’ve seen what the seedlings look like!), and it can do wonders for their self-respect (they can make things grow and the whole family can be fed with their efforts).
Once the food is out of the garden and in the kitchen, more possibilities open up: safe food handling, how to use kitchen utensils, how to clean and sterilise containers for preserving and bottling produce, how to weigh ingredients accurately, how to measure liquids, and how to budget (how much does it cost to make a casserole using our own potatoes and carrots and a range of other bought ingredients? How does that compare with going out and getting takeaways?). Children will learn that knowing how to cook can create a sense of community and a sense of welcome: making food for others is one of the greatest aspects of human society. Children can learn – at home, or with friends and wider family – to value the warmth that comes with a kitchen full of good nourishing food. They can witness the delight they can bring to others by offering gifts of home-made food. Consequently, they will have achieved a huge amount without ever feeling they are being tested, or found wanting.
However, just in case you’re getting the urge to disconnect from the grid and buy a wood-burning stove in order to complete the homely atmosphere, it is worth noting that modern technology (at least in the form of anything that can search the Internet) does have a significant place in modern learning. Most of us who enjoy cooking have dived for the computer and the services of Google at regular intervals, especially when faced with a pile of random ingredients, or a sudden need to deal with a glut of lemons, or raspberries, or green beans, or pears…
While the Internet can sometimes be frustrating, it can also introduce you to culinary delights you would never have thought of, and searches can of course be tailored so that what you get are “easy” or “beginners” recipes – ideal for children (or grownups) just starting out in the kitchen. It can also be a source of supplies – you can order specialty seeds on line if you want to get adventurous, or you can purchase ingredients that are not available where you live (do you want chestnut flour, for example, or a big bag of walnuts in their shells? Yes, you can find them online and buy them from New Zealand suppliers by mail order, even though you don’t live anywhere near Christchurch or Blenheim where the producers are based.)
A combination of simple, life-sustaining skills can be taught and learned almost anywhere, and will have lifelong value. Modern interconnectedness, using the tools available on most people’s phones, lets you experiment more widely than has ever been possible before. This kind of education and technology can be fun, cheap, and worth every minute you and your family spend on it.