Friday, March 20, 2015

The Potato Project: Planting Potatoes with Montessori

It is time (and later in the season than usual) to think "potatoes". It is snowing a little, although we are already past St Patrick's Day and today is the spring equinox.

This spring, the Montessori class are taking on potato planting, care, harvest and cooking as their outdoor learning project.

In the fall, I  identified a raised bed for planting close to the students' classroom. The bed is sunny and has water nearby. I enrich the soil with compost.

I initiate "The Potato Project" with two 45-minute class sessions over two weeks, and describe here how to run for a class of twenty, 3 - 5 year olds.
Please note that this activity can be adapted easily for other groups and ages.
  • Click on resources for printable version of these two sessions and higher grade VA SOL or NGSS-linked materials.
Session One: 45 mins: Indoors (can be end of March, around St Patrick's Day)

Introduction and Planning
"One Potato, Two Potatoes, Three Potatoes, Four..."
How many of the students have eaten potatoes?  How were they prepared and cooked?

We look at different kinds of "seed potatoes" and identify eyes, tubers, sprouts. Some of the potatoes are red, others yellow, some are purple.
We discuss that "seed potatoes" are not seeds from flowers, but small potatoes that are living with stored food in the tuber and will sprout to make another plant.
Potatoes are native to Mexico and South American mountain areas.
Potatoes in a market in La Paz, Bolivia
from Vegetables, p. 135 by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix

Rock-ledge habitat of wild potato in Mexico
from Vegetables, p. 134 by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix

And grow well in cooler parts of North America in Maine and Idaho - and around the world.
Potatoes growing in Maine
from Vegetables, p. 141 by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix

The students put the "seed potatoes" on the window cill to sprout.
We'll leave the seed potatoes on the window cill to sprout more, and will plant them in the garden next week - on Day 7.
I ask the teacher Ms Kipperman, if she and the students can cut the seed potatoes in half on Day 6 and leave the potatoes to "heal", to air dry for the planting session next week.

We then read Two Old Potatoes and Me by John Coy. This beautiful book sets the scene for our expectations, the "hypothesis", for our potato cultivation and celebration.

Activity: Potato Printing
Preparation:It takes about an hour for me to cut 5 lbs of potatoes into various simple designs.
I do this in the morning before the class.

In the class, the teacher demonstrates to the students how to apply the paint thinly on the paint surface with a brush, or to dunk the potato in the paint and print. The printing with washable acrylic paints works well on ordinary construction paper.
The potato printing is a quick and fun activity for the students at the end of their school day.

This ends the Day 1, 45-minute session introducing The Potato Project.

Day 6: 
Teacher and students will take the "seed potatoes" that have been on the window sill and cut each potato in half (each half to have two or more eyes) and will leave the potatoes to dry "heal".

Next Week, Day 7,  Session Two: 45 mins: We will be mainly outdoors and
planting before spring break.

Then after spring break there will be class weekly care sessions until June:
  • Go out to potato bed, observe, journal and draw, look out for insects, and water well. 
  • Mound up earth around potato plants leaving some leaves visible. You may need to do this once a month during the growing season.
  • Adults may add compost (or fertilizer) to potatoes once or twice during growing season.
Harvest and Prepare Mashed Potatoes (June and/or September)
  • Class can harvest some or all of the potatoes in June, wash, prepare and serve "microwaved mashed potatoes" as a class celebration.
  • Or you can leave some potato plants to grow until school returns to harvest in September (as a "Legacy Garden" for next  year's class of Montessori students to harvest and enjoy!).

Resources: Link to detailed planning documents for the The Potato Project

1 comment:

  1. how to grow potatoes ,

    I'm on blogcation. One of the things I do while on vacation is read your blog.

    We grow sweet potatoes much the same way you grow your potatoes.

    We've been experiencing the heat wave here too with people, including our two grandkids getting sick from stroke. But the rain is here now, so things are cooling down.

    Happy farming, and all the best with those plantings.