First graders are inquisitive. Give them something they haven’t seen before and watch their imaginations catch fire as they try to figure out just what it is and where it came from and what it has to do with them.
A cotton stalk, for instance, holds many mysteries.
“Is that a cotton tree?” one asked. “Why do they call those things bolls?” another chimed in. “Do they make cotton candy out of that?” asked one little girl.
I volunteer to read to a group of first graders once a week at a nearby elementary school. They seem to enjoy the change of routine and I get a charge from my weekly visits. I always leave with a chuckle and a new appreciation for those who teach our children.
For the past few years, I’ve collected a cotton stalk sometime in the fall and I take it to the class and explain what cotton does for all of us. Thanks to my good friend Jim Swart, IPM agent in Commerce, Texas, for collecting this stalk for me.
I did explain that cotton in Texas does not actually make a tree but that it does in warmer climates. I also explained that the blue jeans and shirts they were wearing all started on a stalk very similar to the one I brought in.
“Why are our jeans blue and cotton is white?” asked one student. So I explained, as best I could, about how fabric or yarn is dyed in the mills.
They wondered how those fluffy white bolls could turn into yarn and then cloth. I explained, as best I could, how the bolls are fibers. I pulled a bit out of one boll, let it string out to show how it changes from a round puff of white into something resembling a string. I asked if any of their moms or grandmothers were knitters. Several were. I explained how making cotton into cloth was similar to knitting. You take two strings of yarn and slowly weave them together. They seemed to understand that.
The amazing thing, to me, was their fascination with something they had either never seen before or had never seen up close. One little girl said she had seen a cotton field once on a family trip but it was at night so they couldn’t get out and look at it. Now she’s seen cotton up close and personal.
These are smart children. They always enjoy a good story and they always seem eager to learn something new.
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The stalk was filled with bolls so I left it in the classroom so the kids could pick a boll to take home with them.
Their teacher, with whom I’ve enjoyed these weekly visits for five years now, was pleased. She sent me an email later in the day.
“The kids LOVED seeing the cotton ‘tree’ today and are so excited about getting a boll to take home! It was so fun to see their brains working while they thought of questions :). Thanks for sharing that with us!!”
We also read a book that went well with my show and tell activity. The Cow in Patrick O’Shannahan’s Kitchen, by Diana Prichard, illustrated by Heather Devlin Kopf, published by Little Pickle Press, illustrates where food comes from. It’s not just the kitchen.
Patrick’s kitchen mysteriously was inhabited one morning by a cow, some chickens and a grove of maple trees. His dad made French toast.
And Patrick, and the first graders, learned a little bit about where their food originates. Cows and chickens and maple trees don’t grow in kitchens—except in an imaginary setting. The eggs, milk, syrup and other food items come from farms.
The book provided an opportunity to talk about where other things come from—green beans, potatoes, carrots. And with a cotton stalk leaning against a table as a backdrop, I think they got a little better idea about the importance of farms.
“I want to be a farmer when I grow up,” one little girl said. I had to smile.
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