Global creativity for control freaks

18th November 2005 at 00:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: A taste of different cultures

There's a saying about armies marching on their stomachs, but I think I learn on mine. Is it possible that education guru Howard Gardner has missed a vital intelligence, which would perfectly define my learning style? I am very nutritionally intelligent, which means if I want to learn about the world, I do it very well through food.

It began many years ago when we were doing science work on nutrition with Year 3. We were keeping food diaries, designing fantasy lunchboxes and looking at food pyramids. We were aware that much of the food used in these exercises, though, didn't reflect the ethnic diversity of our school community. We decided to bring in some different food to give pupils an experience of how nutritional needs are met around the world. Although I didn't say it at the time, I also thought I would enjoy eating the leftovers.

We told the kiddies what was to happen the next day and bought a variety of bread and fruit. To our amazement, Vinay arrived the following morning laden with food. Freshly cooked chapattis, a range of curries and rice dishes came with a 100-pack of paper plates and spoons. Vinay's Mum had thought it might be nice for the pupils to taste what was eaten in their home, and she was right. Some were more eager than others, but most pupils tried something and, as a result, Vinay was plagued by kids asking if they could go to his house for tea.

The next year, we decided to extend this. When it came to World Food Day, we explained that we would like pupils to know how nutritional needs are met around the world. We invited families to send in a sample of a favourite international dish - either a traditional family recipe or just a favourite meal. We made it clear that we were not asking them to cater for 90 pupils. We were inundated with everything from chilli con carne to paella. Our hall was turned into a huge food-tasting venue, with each dish numbered so pupils could note down the ones they enjoyed. They were overwhelmed by the aromas, textures, sights and tastes that were beyond the experience of their family's cuisine. Their eyes were opened as they filled their faces.

The big step came the following year, however, and this is the clincher.

The joy of the event had been a little bit lessened by the organisational nightmare it had presented us with. We decided to ask parents if they could come and serve the dishes themselves. We did it for the pairs of hands, but what we got was dialogue between pupils and parents about the countries of the world, family traditions, cookery, ingredients, likes, dislikes, and all sorts of other stuff. It became an international community event and a success in every way. Not many leftovers though.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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