Kindergarten 'chefs' trigger practical education debate

Updated: Jun 5, 2024 Xinhua Print
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NANJING — In the city of Xuzhou, located amid the verdant landscapes of East China's Jiangsu province, Xuhai Road Kindergarten produces an unconventional symphony featuring the rhythmic chopping of vegetables, the comforting sizzle of baking buns, and the gentle grind of the soybean milk milling process.

It's not the result of professional kitchen activities, but is instead generated by the culinary efforts of little chefs dressed in miniature chef uniforms.

Such scenes have recently taken the internet by storm, with short videos capturing the impressive kitchen skills of the preschoolers. The kindergarten's account on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, has seen its clips charm audiences, garnering hundreds of thousands of likes and turning the young cooks into viral sensations.

"These activities have become a staple of our daily routine, with children from various grades participating," said Zhang Qian, principal of the kindergarten.

The initiative began when the children collected the small, dark red berries from a hawthorn tree during an outdoor activity in autumn but were initially discouraged from tasting them due to sanitation concerns.

That sparked a question in Zhang: "Why shouldn't they savor the fruits of autumn on an autumn day?" She answered the question by opting to pivot the school's approach.

Inspired to bridge the gap between learning and living, the kindergarten promptly constructed a clay stove and introduced a lesson on how to make sugarcoated hawthorns. That unlocked a treasure trove of learning opportunities, provided by the likes of cooking, dyeing, gardening and feeding animals that have become much loved "subjects "in the kindergarten's curriculum.

"We are mindful of safety, but we fret more about the possibility of depriving children of a joyful childhood," Zhang said. "Nature is the ultimate classroom, and it's imperative for children to experience the seasonal changes and the inherent beauty of life."

Zhang Tian, the kindergarten's vice-principal, said, "Most of the time, we teachers are observers and guides, fostering an environment that encourages children to confront and resolve their own issues and conflicts."

Elated parents are witnessing a transformation in their children. "I can't believe my son can make dumplings," said one parent, while another revealed that "my daughter asked me to buy her an air fryer." Such remarks from parents highlight the newfound culinary skills and interests of their children. A further consequence of the initiative is children showing less passion for watching content on smartphones and a greater tendency to assist with household chores. Parents are proving supportive, with some even providing young chefs with firewood to fuel their cooking passion.

The novel form of practical education has transformed the personalities of some of the young students.

Once an introverted student at the kindergarten, a boy found his calling in cooking, with his exploits earning him the nickname "chef "among his peers. His teachers have observed a remarkable change in him, describing him as now being a radiant and confident boy who often hums contentedly while cooking.

Although this focus on practical learning has reduced traditional classroom time, the children have not suffered academically. Educational experts say that upon entering primary school, such children are very likely to impress teachers with their heightened concentration levels, problem-solving skills and strong learning capabilities.

Practical classes have been officially integrated and expanded in the compulsory education curriculum across China. From classification and storage to cooking, nutrition, agricultural production and traditional handicrafts, schools are embracing various forms of practical education.

At a primary school in Zhejiang province, students have developed a smart irrigation system in a 2,000-square-meter garden. In the city of Heshan, Guangdong province, forms of intangible cultural heritage such as traditional umbrella making and dragon boat racing have been incorporated into school curricula.

Xuhai Road Kindergarten exemplifies the integration of education with life and nature, transcending the traditional limitations of the campus.

"Education and teaching should not be confined to campuses, and knowledge extends beyond books," said Yin Fei, who is deputy head of Nanjing Normal University's home education research institute.

Xuhai Road Kindergarten has moved the classroom to the "kitchen", thereby combining education, life and nature. The initiative reflects the fact that education and teaching need not be limited to a classroom or even a campus, and knowledge is not only acquired from books, Yin said.



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