By Debra Gorman Cagle

Have you ever noticed how fun it is to eat an apple? While eating itself is a total sensory experience, partaking of an apple is somehow more appealing than most other foods. To begin with, there are so many varieties of apples from which to choose. The apple is the most varied food on earth. Worldwide, there are over 7,500 kinds of apples. Here in the United States 2,500 different kinds of apples are grown. Most of the apples in the U.S. are grown in Washington, Michigan and New York.

Parents, teachers and care providers can create wonderful learning experiences by simply using apples, and going on a sensory exploration with the children. With the wide variety of apples available at your local grocer, a different “apple exploring activity” could take place every day for a week or two. Fun facts about apples can be shared once a day. Begin by examining a whole apple, and then give each child an apple slice. Either the adult or the child could use a fruit slicer to divide the apple. (Often by introducing an amazing tool the child can use herself, such as a fruit divider, the child is more likely to eat the food on a regular basis.) By encouraging the children to investigate with each of their senses we are teaching them that our whole body is part of the learning process. Fine-tuning the five senses at an early age prepares the children to be life-long learners wherever they may be. By giving them the vocabulary to describe their sensory discoveries we aid in all aspects of their language development.

Visually, apples vary greatly from smaller-than-your-palm-size to a substantial two-handed giant. They can be round, heart-shaped and even somewhat cube-shaped. Their colors can range from red to pink to orange to yellow to green, with a dark solid coloring to multi-colored to apples with stripes. Apples can be appealingly shiny or beautifully muted and shaded. Tactilely, apples can feel smooth or bumpy. Their skin can feel hard or soft. Dependant upon where they are stored, apples can be cold or warm to touch. They can feel heavy or light. Aromatically, apples smell sweet. It is beneficial for a child to be able to identify foods by their unique smell, and apples have an aroma all their own.

Auditorily, the apple makes no sound when it is shaken. But take a bite and oh! what music is makes! The crispness of an apple can be described as crunchy or juicy or even squeaky. A fun fact to share with the children, found at the website listed below, is, “The apple fruit itself is covered with a natural layer of wax to protect its high water content. Hence, fresh apples are always crisp.”

By asking the child, “How does it sound when you take a bite?” a child who otherwise may not have tasted the apple will be concentrating on listening and continue the food exploration with you. Once bitten, the taste of the apple can be described as sweet, tangy, tart and even sour. After tasting and eating the apples, the information that there are different classifications for apples may make a more lasting impression. The three general groupings are cider apples, grown for their juice; cooking apples, canned for sauces, pie filling, jelly and apple butter; and dessert apples, used for eating.

A trip to an apple orchard would be a wonderful way to extend the learning done about apples. The sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes permeating the orchard provide another opportunity for a sensory learning experience. Even a trip to the local grocer to see the varieties of apples available is a great field trip for learning.

Sharing common phrases can also expand a child’s knowledge about apples and the world. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” is a popular phrase to teach the children. Information on the vitamins, minerals and nutrients in apples can be shared as the child’s age and stage permits. “Apples are best eaten with the peel since most of the fiber and antioxidants are found in the apple’s peel,” (website) is a statement beneficial to both adults and children. Knowing that “the apple is nature’s toothbrush” is a fun fact, and the explanation that the water and fiber in apples actually cleans our teeth is information to be used throughout life.

Education on apples can continue with books and stories. The Legend of Johnny Appleseed is a tale that can be short or long, again depending on the age of the children with whom this information is being shared. Apples How They Grow by Bruce McMillan is a beautiful pictorial of the growth cycle of apples. An Apple a Day by Jennifer Storey Gillis provides wonderful information about apples. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is a heart warming story about an apple tree. A fun website for children to explore is www.applejuice.org for further fun and facts regarding apples.

Recipes and food preparation activities for apples abound, and can be another fun way to extend learning about apples. From something as simple as spreading peanut butter on apple slices to making applesauce to creating a caramel apple pizza, including apples in our diet is a nutritious way to build healthy bodies and healthy minds. Still, nothing can beat the pure fun and joy of exploring and appreciating the simple pleasure of eating a crisp, juicy apple. Crunch!

Apple facts website: www.chm.bris.sc.uk/webprojects2003/lim/Appleweb2003/intfact.htm

Debra Gorman Cagle has been an educator for over 25 years, and teaches at the Montessori Children’s House in Adrian, Michigan, Siena Heights University and Indiana University South Bend. She is co-owner of the Montessori4Life Materials Company. Article first publishing in the Preview Issue of KidsCare Magazine, 2006.

{February 14, 2009}